The Project Gutenberg EBook of Venus in Furs
by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Translated by Fernanda Savage
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Title: Venus in Furs
Author: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Translated by Fernanda Savage
Release Date: November, 2004 [EBook #6852]
[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
[This file was first posted on February 2, 2003]
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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK VENUS IN FURS ***
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VENUS IN FURS
Of this book, intended for
private circulation, only
1225 copies have been
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VENUS IN FURS
LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH
Translated from the German
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in Lemberg, Austrian Galicia, on
January 27, 1836. He studied jurisprudence at Prague and Graz, and in
1857 became a teacher at the latter university. He published several
historical works, but soon gave up his academic career to devote
himself wholly to literature. For a number of years he edited the
international review, _Auf der Hohe_, at Leipzig, but later removed to
Paris, for he was always strongly Francophile. His last years he spent
at Lindheim in Hesse, Germany, where he died on March 9, 1895. In 1873
he married Aurora von Rumelin, who wrote a number of novels under the
pseudonym of Wanda von Dunajew, which it is interesting to note is the
name of the heroine of _Venus in Furs_. Her sensational memoirs which
have been the cause of considerable controversy were published in 1906.
During his career as writer an endless number of works poured from
Sacher-Masoch's pen. Many of these were works of ephemeral
journalism, and some of them unfortunately pure sensationalism, for
economic necessity forced him to turn his pen to unworthy ends.
There is, however, a residue among his works which has a distinct
literary and even greater psychological value. His principal literary
ambition was never completely fulfilled. It was a somewhat
programmatic plan to give a picture of contemporary life in all its
various aspects and interrelations under the general title of the
_Heritage of Cain_. This idea was probably derived from Balzac's
_Comedie Humaine_. The whole was to be divided into six subdivisions
with the general titles _Love, Property, Money, The State, War,_ and
_Death_. Each of these divisions in its turn consisted of six novels,
of which the last was intended to summarize the author's conclusions
and to present his solution for the problems set in the others.
This extensive plan remained unachieved, and only the first two parts,
_Love_ and _Property_, were completed. Of the other sections only
fragments remain. The present novel, _Venus in Furs_, forms the fifth
in the series, _Love_.
The best of Sacher-Masoch's work is characterized by a swift
narration and a graphic representation of character and scene and a
rich humor. The latter has made many of his shorter stories dealing
with his native Galicia little masterpieces of local color.
There is, however, another element in his work which has caused his
name to become as eponym for an entire series of phenomena at one end
of the psycho-sexual scale. This gives his productions a peculiar
psychological value, though it cannot be denied also a morbid tinge
that makes them often repellent. However, it is well to remember that
nature is neither good nor bad, neither altruistic nor egoistic, and
that it operates through the human psyche as well as through crystals
and plants and animals with the same inexorable laws.
Sacher-Masoch was the poet of the anomaly now generally known as
_masochism_. By this is meant the desire on the part of the individual
affected of desiring himself completely and unconditionally subject to
the will of a person of the opposite sex, and being treated by this
person as by a master, to be humiliated, abused, and tormented, even
to the verge of death. This motive is treated in all its innumerable
variations. As a creative artist Sacher-Masoch was, of course, on the
quest for the absolute, and sometimes, when impulses in the human
being assume an abnormal or exaggerated form, there is just for a
moment a flash that gives a glimpse of the thing in itself.
If any defense were needed for the publication of work like Sacher-
Masoch's it is well to remember that artists are the historians of the
human soul and one might recall the wise and tolerant Montaigne's
essay _On the Duty of Historians_ where he says, "One may cover over
secret actions, but to be silent on what all the world knows, and
things which have had effects which are public and of so much
consequence is an inexcusable defect."
And the curious interrelation between cruelty and sex, again and
again, creeps into literature. Sacher-Masoch has not created anything
new in this. He has simply taken an ancient motive and developed it
frankly and consciously, until, it seems, there is nothing further to
say on the subject. To the violent attacks which his books met he
replied in a polemical work, _Uber den Wert der Kritik_.
It would be interesting to trace the masochistic tendency as it occurs
throughout literature, but no more can be done than just to allude to
a few instances. The theme recurs continually in the _Confessions_ of
Jean Jacques Rousseau; it explains the character of the chevalier in
Prevost's _Manon l'Escault_. Scenes of this nature are found in Zola's
_Nana_, in Thomas Otway's _Venice Preserved_, in Albert Juhelle's _Les
Pecheurs d'Hommes_, in Dostojevski. In disguised and unrecognized form
it constitutes the undercurrent of much of the sentimental literature
of the present day, though in most cases the authors as well as the
readers are unaware of the pathological elements out of which their
characters are built.
In all these strange and troubled waters of the human spirit one might
wish for something of the serene and simple attitude of the ancient
world. Laurent Tailhade has an admirable passage in his _Platres et
Marbres_, which is well worth reproducing in this connection:
"Toutefois, les Hellenes, dans, leurs cites de lumiere, de douceur
et d'harmonie, avaient une indulgence qu'on peut nommer scientifique
pour les troubles amoureux de l'esprit. S'ils ne regardaient pas
l'aliene comme en proie a la vistation d'un dieu (idee orientale et
fataliste), du moins ils savaient que l'amour est une sorte
d'envoutement, une folie ou se manifeste l'animosite des puissances
cosmiques. Plus tard, le christianisme enveloppa les ames de
tenebres. Ce fut la grande nuite. L'Eglise condamna tout ce qui lui
parut neuf ou menacant pour les dogmes implacable ui reduisaient le
monde en esclavage."
Among Sacher-Masoch's works, _Venus in Furs_ is one of the most
typical and outstanding. In spite of melodramatic elements and other
literary faults, it is unquestionably a sincere work, written without
any idea of titillating morbid fancies. One feels that in the hero
many subjective elements have been incorporated, which are a
disadvantage to the work from the point of view of literature, but on
the other hand raise the book beyond the sphere of art, pure and
simple, and make it one of those appalling human documents which
belong, part to science and part to psychology. It is the confession
of a deeply unhappy man who could not master his personal tragedy of
existence, and so sought to unburden his soul in writing down the
things he felt and experienced. The reader who will approach the book
from this angle and who will honestly put aside moral prejudices and
prepossessions will come away from the perusal of this book with a
deeper understanding of this poor miserable soul of ours and a light
will be cast into dark places that lie latent in all of us.
Sacher-Masoch's works have held an established position in European
letters for something like half a century, and the author himself was
made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French Government in
1883, on the occasion of his literary jubilee. When several years ago
cheap reprints were brought out on the Continent and attempts were
made by various guardians of morality--they exist in all countries--
to have them suppressed, the judicial decisions were invariably
against the plaintiff and in favor of the publisher. Are Americans
children that they must be protected from books which any European
school-boy can purchase whenever he wishes? However, such seems to be
the case, and this translation, which has long been in preparation,
consequently appears in a limited edition printed for subscribers
only. In another connection Herbert Spencer once used these words:
"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to
fill the world with fools." They have a very pointed application in
the case of a work like _Venus in Furs_.
VENUS IN FURS
_"But the Almighty Lord hath struck him,
and hath delivered him into the hands of
--The Vulgate, Judith, xvi. 7.
My company was charming.
Opposite me by the massive Renaissance fireplace sat Venus; she was
not a casual woman of the half-world, who under this pseudonym wages
war against the enemy sex, like Mademoiselle Cleopatra, but the real,
true goddess of love.
She sat in an armchair and had kindled a crackling fire, whose
reflection ran in red flames over her pale face with its white eyes,
and from time to time over her feet when she sought to warm them.
Her head was wonderful in spite of the dead stony eyes; it was all
I could see of her. She had wrapped her marble-like body in a huge
fur, and rolled herself up trembling like a cat.
"I don't understand it," I exclaimed, "It isn't really cold any
longer. For two weeks past we have had perfect spring weather. You
must be nervous."
"Much obliged for your spring," she replied with a low stony voice,
and immediately afterwards sneezed divinely, twice in succession. "I
really can't stand it here much longer, and I am beginning to
"What, dear lady?"
"I am beginning to believe the unbelievable and to understand the un-
understandable. All of a sudden I understand the Germanic virtue of
woman, and German philosophy, and I am no longer surprised that you
of the North do not know how to love, haven't even an idea of what
"But, madame," I replied flaring up, "I surely haven't given you any
"Oh, you--" The divinity sneezed for the third time, and shrugged
her shoulders with inimitable grace. "That's why I have always been
nice to you, and even come to see you now and then, although I catch
a cold every time, in spite of all my furs. Do you remember the first
time we met?"
"How could I forget it," I said. "You wore your abundant hair in
brown curls, and you had brown eyes and a red mouth, but I recognized
you immediately by the outline of your face and its marble-like
pallor--you always wore a violet-blue velvet jacket edged with
"You were really in love with the costume, and awfully docile."
"You have taught me what love is. Your serene form of worship let me
forget two thousand years."
"And my faithfulness to you was without equal!"
"Well, as far as faithfulness goes--"
"I will not reproach you with anything. You are a divine woman, but
nevertheless a woman, and like every woman cruel in love."
"What you call cruel," the goddess of love replied eagerly, "is
simply the element of passion and of natural love, which is woman's
nature and makes her give herself where she loves, and makes her love
everything, that pleases her."
"Can there be any greater cruelty for a lover than the
unfaithfulness of the woman he loves?"
"Indeed!" she replied. "We are faithful as long as we love, but you
demand faithfulness of a woman without love, and the giving of
herself without enjoyment. Who is cruel there--woman or man? You of
the North in general take love too soberly and seriously. You talk
of duties where there should be only a question of pleasure."
"That is why our emotions are honorable and virtuous, and our
"And yet a restless, always unsatisfied craving for the nudity of
paganism," she interrupted, "but that love, which is the highest joy,
which is divine simplicity itself, is not for you moderns, you
children of reflection. It works only evil in you. _As soon as you
wish to be natural, you become common._ To you nature seems something
hostile; you have made devils out of the smiling gods of Greece, and
out of me a demon. You can only exorcise and curse me, or slay
yourselves in bacchantic madness before my altar. And if ever one of
you has had the courage to kiss my red mouth, he makes a barefoot
pilgrimage to Rome in penitential robes and expects flowers to grow
from his withered staff, while under my feet roses, violets, and
myrtles spring up every hour, but their fragrance does not agree with
you. Stay among your northern fogs and Christian incense; let us
pagans remain under the debris, beneath the lava; do not disinter us.
Pompeii was not built for you, nor our villas, our baths, our temples.
You do not require gods. We are chilled in your world."
The beautiful marble woman coughed, and drew the dark sables still
closer about her shoulders.
"Much obliged for the classical lesson," I replied, "but you cannot
deny, that man and woman are mortal enemies, in your serene sunlit
world as well as in our foggy one. In love there is union into a
single being for a short time only, capable of only one thought, one
sensation, one will, in order to be then further disunited. And you
know this better than I; whichever of the two fails to subjugate will
soon feel the feet of the other on his neck--"
"And as a rule the man that of the woman," cried Madame Venus with
proud mockery, "which you know better than I."
"Of course, and that is why I don't have any illusions."
"You mean you are now my slave without illusions, and for that
reason you shall feel the weight of my foot without mercy."
"Don't you know me yet? Yes, I am _cruel_--since you take so much
delight in that word-and am I not entitled to be so? Man is the one
who desires, woman the one who is desired. This is woman's entire but
decisive advantage. Through his passion nature has given man into
woman's hands, and the woman who does not know how to make him her
subject, her slave, her toy, and how to betray him with a smile in the
end is not wise."
"Exactly your principles," I interrupted angrily.
"They are based on the experience of thousands of years," she
replied ironically, while her white fingers played over the dark fur.
"The more devoted a woman shows herself, the sooner the man sobers
down and becomes domineering. The more cruelly she treats him and the
more faithless she is, the worse she uses him, the more wantonly she
plays with him, the less pity she shows him, by so much the more will
she increase his desire, be loved, worshipped by him. So it has
always been, since the time of Helen and Delilah, down to Catherine
the Second and Lola Montez."
"I cannot deny," I said, "that nothing will attract a man more than
the picture of a beautiful, passionate, cruel, and despotic woman who
wantonly changes her favorites without scruple in accordance with her
"And in addition wears furs," exclaimed the divinity.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I know your predilection."
"Do you know," I interrupted, "that, since we last saw each other,
you have grown very coquettish."
"In what way, may I ask?"
"In that there is no way of accentuating your white body to greater
advantage than by these dark furs, and that--"
The divinity laughed.
"You are dreaming," she cried, "wake up!" and she clasped my arm
with her marble-white hand. "Do wake up," she repeated raucously with
the low register of her voice. I opened my eyes with difficulty.
I saw the hand which shook me, and suddenly it was brown as bronze;
the voice was the thick alcoholic voice of my cossack servant who
stood before me at his full height of nearly six feet.
"Do get up," continued the good fellow, "it is really disgraceful."
"What is disgraceful?"
"To fall asleep in your clothes and with a book besides." He snuffed
the candles which had burned down, and picked up the volume which had
fallen from my hand, "with a book by"--he looked at the title page--
"by Hegel. Besides it is high time you were starting for Mr.
Severin's who is expecting us for tea."
"A curious dream," said Severin when I had finished. He supported
his arms on his knees, resting his face in his delicate, finely
veined hands, and fell to pondering.
I knew that he wouldn't move for a long time, hardly even breathe.
This actually happened, but I didn't consider his behavior as in any
way remarkable. I had been on terms of close friendship with him for
nearly three years, and gotten used to his peculiarities. For it
cannot be denied that he was peculiar, although he wasn't quite the
dangerous madman that the neighborhood, or indeed the entire district
of Kolomea, considered him to be. I found his personality not only
interesting--and that is why many also regarded me a bit mad--but to
a degree sympathetic. For a Galician nobleman and land-owner, and
considering his age--he was hardly over thirty--he displayed
surprising sobriety, a certain seriousness, even pedantry. He lived
according to a minutely elaborated, half-philosophical, half-
practical system, like clock-work; not this alone, but also by the
thermometer, barometer, aerometer, hydrometer, Hippocrates, Hufeland,
Plato, Kant, Knigge, and Lord Chesterfield. But at times he had
violent attacks of sudden passion, and gave the impression of being
about to run with his head right through a wall. At such times every
one preferred to get out of his way.
While he remained silent, the fire sang in the chimney and the large
venerable samovar sang; and the ancient chair in which I sat rocking
to and fro smoking my cigar, and the cricket in the old walls sang
too. I let my eyes glide over the curious apparatus, skeletons of
animals, stuffed birds, globes, plaster-casts, with which his room
was heaped full, until by chance my glance remained fixed on a
picture which I had seen often enough before. But to-day, under the
reflected red glow of the fire, it made an indescribable impression
It was a large oil painting, done in the robust full-bodied manner
of the Belgian school. Its subject was strange enough.
A beautiful woman with a radiant smile upon her face, with abundant
hair tied into a classical knot, on which white powder lay like a
soft hoarfrost, was resting on an ottoman, supported on her left arm.
She was nude in her dark furs. Her right hand played with a lash,
while her bare foot rested carelessly on a man, lying before her like
a slave, like a dog. In the sharply outlined, but well-formed
linaments of this man lay brooding melancholy and passionate
devotion; he looked up to her with the ecstatic burning eye of a
martyr. This man, the footstool for her feet, was Severin, but
beardless, and, it seemed, some ten years younger.
"_Venus in Furs_," I cried, pointing to the picture. "That is the way
I saw her in my dream."
"I, too," said Severin, "only I dreamed my dream with open eyes."
"It is a tiresome story."
"Your picture apparently suggested my dream," I continued. "But do
tell me what it means. I can imagine that it played a role in your
life, and perhaps a very decisive one. But the details I can only get
"Look at its counterpart," replied my strange friend, without
heeding my question.
The counterpart was an excellent copy of Titian's well-known "Venus
with the Mirror" in the Dresden Gallery.
"And what is the significance?"
Severin rose and pointed with his finger at the fur with which
Titian garbed his goddess of love.
"It, too, is a 'Venus in Furs,'" he said with a slight smile. "I
don't believe that the old Venetian had any secondary intention. He
simply painted the portrait of some aristocratic Mesalina, and was
tactful enough to let Cupid hold the mirror in which she tests her
majestic allure with cold satisfaction. He looks as though his task
were becoming burdensome enough. The picture is painted flattery.
Later an 'expert' in the Rococo period baptized the lady with the
name of Venus. The furs of the despot in which Titian's fair model
wrapped herself, probably more for fear of a cold than out of
modesty, have become a symbol of the tyranny and cruelty that
constitute woman's essence and her beauty.
"But enough of that. The picture, as it now exists, is a bitter
satire on our love. Venus in this abstract North, in this icy
Christian world, has to creep into huge black furs so as not to catch
Severin laughed, and lighted a fresh cigarette.
Just then the door opened and an attractive, stoutish, blonde girl
entered. She had wise, kindly eyes, was dressed in black silk, and
brought us cold meat and eggs with our tea. Severin took one of the
latter, and decapitated it with his knife.
"Didn't I tell you that I want them soft-boiled?" he cried with a
violence that made the young woman tremble.
"But my dear Sevtchu--" she said timidly.
"Sevtchu, nothing," he yelled, "you are to obey, obey, do you
understand?" and he tore the _kantchuk_ [Footnote: A long whip with a
short handle.] which was hanging beside the weapons from its hook.
The woman fled from the chamber quickly and timidly like a doe.
"Just wait, I'll get you yet," he called after her.
"But Severin," I said placing my hand on his arm, "how can you treat
a pretty young woman thus?"
"Look at the woman," he replied, blinking humorously with his eyes.
"Had I flattered her, she would have cast the noose around my neck,
but now, when I bring her up with the _kantchuk_, she adores me."
"Nonsense, nothing, that is the way you have to break in women."
"Well, if you like it, live like a pasha in your harem, but don't
lay down theories for me--"
"Why not," he said animatedly. "Goethe's 'you must be hammer or anvil'
is absolutely appropriate to the relation between man and woman.
Didn't Lady Venus in your dream prove that to you? Woman's power lies
in man's passion, and she knows how to use it, if man doesn't
understand himself. He has only one choice: to be the _tyrant_ over or
the _slave_ of woman. As soon as he gives in, his neck is under the
yoke, and the lash will soon fall upon him."
"Not maxims, but experiences," he replied, nodding his head, "_I have
actually felt the lash_. I am cured. Do you care to know how?"
He rose, and got a small manuscript from his massive desk, and put
it in front of me.
"You have already asked about the picture. I have long owed you an
Severin sat down by the chimney with his back toward me, and seemed
to dream with open eyes. Silence had fallen again, and again the fire
sang in the chimney, and the samovar and the cricket in the old
walls. I opened the manuscript and read:
CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERSENSUAL MAN.
The margin of the manuscript bore as motto a variation of the well-
known lines from _Faust_:
"Thou supersensual sensual woer
A woman leads you by the nose."
I turned the title-page and read: "What follows has been compiled
from my diary of that period, because it is impossible ever frankly
to write of one's past, but in this way everything retains its fresh
colors, the colors of the present."
Gogol, the Russian Moliere, says--where? well, somewhere--"the real
comic muse is the one under whose laughing mask tears roll down."
A wonderful saying.
So I have a very curious feeling as I am writing all this down. The
atmosphere seems filled with a stimulating fragrance of flowers,
which overcomes me and gives me a headache. The smoke of the
fireplace curls and condenses into figures, small gray-bearded
kokolds that mockingly point their finger at me. Chubby-cheeked
cupids ride on the arms of my chair and on my knees. I have to smile
involuntarily, even laugh aloud, as I am writing down my adventures.
Yet I am not writing with ordinary ink, but with red blood that drips
from my heart. All its wounds long scarred over have opened and it
throbs and hurts, and now and then a tear falls on the paper.
The days creep along sluggishly in the little Carpathian health-
resort. You see no one, and no one sees you. It is boring enough to
write idyls. I would have leisure here to supply a whole gallery of
paintings, furnish a theater with new pieces for an entire season,
a dozen virtuosos with concertos, trios, and duos, but--what am I
saying--the upshot of it all is that I don't do much more than to
stretch the canvas, smooth the bow, line the scores. For I am--no
false modesty, Friend Severin; you can lie to others, but you don't
quite succeed any longer in lying to yourself--I am nothing but a
dilettante, a dilettante in painting, in poetry, in music, and
several other of the so-called unprofitable arts, which, however, at
present secure for their masters the income of a cabinet minister,
or even that of a minor potentate. Above all else I am a dilettante
Up to the present I have lived as I have painted and written poetry.
I never got far beyond the preparation, the plan, the first act, the
first stanza. There are people like that who begin everything, and
never finish anything. I am such a one.
But what am I saying?
To the business in hand.
I lie in my window, and the miserable little town, which fills me
with despondency, really seems infinitely full of poetry. How
wonderful the outlook upon the blue wall of high mountains interwoven
with golden sunlight; mountain-torrents weave through them like
ribbons of silver! How clear and blue the heavens into which
snowcapped crags project; how green and fresh the forested slopes;
the meadows on which small herds graze, down to the yellow billows
of grain where reapers stand and bend over and rise up again.
The house in which I live stands in a sort of park, or forest, or
wilderness, whatever one wants to call it, and is very solitary.
Its sole inhabitants are myself, a widow from Lemberg, and Madame
Tartakovska, who runs the house, a little old woman, who grows older
and smaller each day. There are also an old dog that limps on one
leg, and a young cat that continually plays with a ball of yarn. This
ball of yarn, I believe, belongs to the widow.
She is said to be really beautiful, this widow, still very young,
twenty-four at the most, and very rich. She dwells in the first
story, and I on the ground floor. She always keeps the green blinds
drawn, and has a balcony entirely overgrown with green climbing-
plants. I for my part down below have a comfortable, intimate arbor
of honeysuckle, in which I read and write and paint and sing like a
bird among the twigs. I can look up on the balcony. Sometimes I
actually do so, and then from time to time a white gown gleams
between the dense green network.
Really the beautiful woman up there doesn't interest me very much,
for I am in love with someone else, and terribly unhappy at that; far
more unhappy than the Knight of Toggenburg or the Chevalier in Manon
l'Escault, because the object of my adoration is of stone.
In the garden, in the tiny wilderness, there is a graceful little
meadow on which a couple of deer graze peacefully. On this meadow is
a stone statue of Venus, the original of which, I believe, is in
Florence. This Venus is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in
all my life.
That, however, does not signify much, for I have seen few beautiful
women, or rather few women at all. In love too, I am a dilettante who
never got beyond the preparation, the first act.
But why talk in superlatives, as if something that is beautiful
could be surpassed?
It is sufficient to say that this Venus is beautiful. I love her
passionately with a morbid intensity; madly as one can only love a
woman who never responds to our love with anything but an eternally
uniform, eternally calm, stony smile. I literally adore her.
I often lie reading under the leafy covering of a young birch when
the sun broods over the forest. Often I visit that cold, cruel
mistress of mine by night and lie on my knees before her, with the
face pressed against the cold pedestal on which her feet rest, and
my prayers go up to her.
The rising moon, which just now is waning, produces an indescribable
effect. It seems to hover among the trees and submerges the meadow
in its gleam of silver. The goddess stands as if transfigured, and
seems to bathe in the soft moonlight.
Once when I was returning from my devotions by one of the walks
leading to the house, I suddenly saw a woman's figure, white as
stone, under the illumination of the moon and separated from me
merely by a screen of trees. It seemed as if the beautiful woman of
marble had taken pity on me, become alive, and followed me. I was
seized by a nameless fear, my heart threatened to burst, and instead--
Well, I am a dilettante. As always, I broke down at the second
stanza; rather, on the contrary, I did not break down, but ran away
as fast as my legs would carry me.
* * * * *
What an accident! Through a Jew, dealing in photographs I secured a
picture of my ideal. It is a small reproduction of Titian's "Venus
with the Mirror." What a woman! I want to write a poem, but instead,
I take the reproduction, and write on it: _Venus in Furs_.
You are cold, while you yourself fan flames. By all means wrap
yourself in your despotic furs, there is no one to whom they are more
appropriate, cruel goddess of love and of beauty!--After a while I add
a few verses from Goethe, which I recently found in his paralipomena
"The pair of wings a fiction are,
The arrows, they are naught but claws,
The wreath conceals the little horns,
For without any doubt he is
Like all the gods of ancient Greece
Only a devil in disguise."
Then I put the picture before me on my table, supporting it with a
book, and looked at it.
I was enraptured and at the same time filled with a strange fear by
the cold coquetry with which this magnificent woman draped her charms
in her furs of dark sable; by the severity and hardness which lay in
this cold marble-like face. Again I took my pen in hand, and wrote
the following words:
"To love, to be loved, what happiness! And yet how the glamour of
this pales in comparison with the tormenting bliss of worshipping a
woman who makes a plaything out of us, of being the slave of a
beautiful tyrant who treads us pitilessly underfoot. Even Samson, the
hero, the giant, again put himself into the hands of Delilah, even
after she had betrayed him, and again she betrayed him, and the
Philistines bound him and put out his eyes which until the very end
he kept fixed, drunken with rage and love, upon the beautiful
I was breakfasting in my honey-suckle arbor, and reading in the Book
of Judith. I envied the hero Holofernes because of the regal woman
who cut off his head with a sword, and because of his beautiful
"The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the
hands of a woman."
This sentence strangely impressed me.
How ungallant these Jews are, I thought. And their God might choose
more becoming expressions when he speaks of the fair sex.
"The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the
hands of a woman," I repeated to myself. What shall I do, so that He
may punish me?
Heaven preserve us! Here comes the housekeeper, who has again
diminished somewhat in size overnight. And up there among the green
twinings and garlandings the white gown gleams again. Is it Venus,
or the widow?
This time it happens to be the widow, for Madame Tartakovska makes
a courtesy, and asks me in her name for something to read. I run to
my room, and gather together a couple of volumes.
Later I remember that my picture of Venus is in one of them, and now
it and my effusions are in the hands of the white woman up there
together. What will she say?
I hear her laugh.
Is she laughing at me?
It is full moon. It is already peering over the tops of the low
hemlocks that fringe the park. A silvery exhalation fills the
terrace, the groups of trees, all the landscape, as far as the eye
can reach; in the distance it gradually fades away, like trembling
I cannot resist. I feel a strange urge and call within me. I put on
my clothes again and go out into the garden.
Some power draws me toward the meadow, toward her, who is my
divinity and my beloved.
The night is cool. I feel a slight chill. The atmosphere is heavy
with the odor of flowers and of the forest. It intoxicates.
What solemnity! What music round about! A nightingale sobs. The
stars quiver very faintly in the pale-blue glamour. The meadow seems
smooth, like a mirror, like a covering of ice on a pond.
The statue of Venus stands out august and luminous.
But--what has happened? From the marble shoulders of the goddess a
large dark fur flows down to her heels. I stand dumbfounded and stare
at her in amazement; again an indescribable fear seizes hold of me
and I take flight.
I hasten my steps, and notice that I have missed the main path. As
I am about to turn aside into one of the green walks I see Venus
sitting before me on a stone bench, not the beautiful woman of
marble, but the goddess of love herself with warm blood and throbbing
pulses. She has actually come to life for me, like the statue that
began to breathe for her creator. Indeed, the miracle is only half
completed. Her white hair seems still to be of stone, and her white
gown shimmers like moonlight, or is it satin? From her shoulders the
dark fur flows. But her lips are already reddening and her cheeks
begin to take color. Two diabolical green rays out of her eyes fall
upon me, and now she laughs.
Her laughter is very mysterious, very--I don't know. It cannot be
described, it takes my breath away. I flee further, and after every
few steps I have to pause to take breath. The mocking laughter
pursues me through the dark leafy paths, across light open spaces,
through the thicket where only single moonbeams can pierce. I can no
longer find my way, I wander about utterly confused, with cold drops
of perspiration on the forehead.
Finally I stand still, and engage in a short monologue.
It runs--well--one is either very polite to one's self or very rude.
I say to myself:
This word exercises a remarkable effect, like a magic formula, which
sets me free and makes me master of myself.
I am perfectly quiet in a moment.
With considerable pleasure I repeat: "Donkey!"
Now everything is perfectly clear and distinct before my eyes again.
There is the fountain, there the alley of box-wood, there the house
which I am slowly approaching.
Yet--suddenly the appearance is here again. Behind the green screen
through which the moonlight gleams so that it seems embroidered with
silver, I again see the white figure, the woman of stone whom I
adore, whom I fear and flee.
With a couple of leaps I am within the house and catch my breath and
What am I really, a little dilettante or a great big donkey?
A sultry morning, the atmosphere is dead, heavily laden with odors,
yet stimulating. Again I am sitting in my honey-suckle arbor, reading
in the Odyssey about the beautiful witch who transformed her admirers
into beasts. A wonderful picture of antique love.
There is a soft rustling in the twigs and blades and the pages of my
book rustle and on the terrace likewise there is a rustling.
A woman's dress--
She is there--Venus--but without furs--No, this time it is merely
the widow--and yet--Venus-oh, what a woman!
As she stands there in her light white morning gown, looking at me,
her slight figure seems full of poetry and grace. She is neither
large, nor small; her head is alluring, piquant--in the sense of the
period of the French marquises--rather than formally beautiful. What
enchantment and softness, what roguish charm play about her none too
small mouth! Her skin is so infinitely delicate, that the blue veins
show through everywhere; even through the muslin covering her arms
and bosom. How abundant her red hair-it is red, not blonde or golden-
yellow--how diabolically and yet tenderly it plays around her neck!
Now her eyes meet mine like green lightnings--they are green, these
eyes of hers, whose power is so indescribable--green, but as are
precious stones, or deep unfathomable mountain lakes.
She observes my confusion, which has even made me discourteous, for
I have remained seated and still have my cap on my head.
She smiles roguishly.
Finally I rise and bow to her. She comes closer, and bursts out into
a loud, almost childlike laughter. I stammer, as only a little
dilettante or great big donkey can do on such an occasion.
Thus our acquaintance began.
The divinity asks for my name, and mentions her own.
Her name is Wanda von Dunajew.
And she is actually my Venus.
"But madame, what put the idea into your head?"
"The little picture in one of your books--"
"I had forgotten about it."
"The curious notes on its back--"
She looked at me.
"I have always wanted to know a real dreamer some time--for the sake
of the change--and you seem one of the maddest of the tribe."
"Dear lady--in fact--" Again I fell victim to an odious, asinine
stammering, and in addition blushed in a way that might have been
appropriate for a youngster of sixteen, but not for me, who was
almost a full ten years older--
"You were afraid of me last night."
"Really--of course--but won't you sit down?"
She sat down, and enjoyed my embarrassment--for actually I was even
more afraid of her now in the full light of day. A delightful
expression of contempt hovered about her upper lip.
"You look at love, and especially woman," she began, "as something
hostile, something against which you put up a defense, even if
unsuccessfully. You feel that their power over you gives you a
sensation of pleasurable torture, of pungent cruelty. This is a
genuinely modern point of view."
"You don't share it?"
"I do not share it," she said quickly and decisively, shaking her
head, so that her curls flew up like red flames.
"The ideal which I strive to realize in my life is the serene
sensuousness of the Greeks--pleasure without pain. I do not believe
in the kind of love which is preached by Christianity, by the
moderns, by the knights of the spirit. Yes, look at me, I am worse
than a heretic, I am a pagan.
'Doest thou imagine long the goddess of love took counsel
When in Ida's grove she was pleased with the hero Achilles?'
"These lines from Goethe's _Roman Elegy_ have always delighted me.
"In nature there is only the love of the heroic age, 'when gods and
goddesses loved.' At that time 'desire followed the glance, enjoyment
desire.' All else is factitious, affected, a lie. Christianity, whose
cruel emblem, the cross, has always had for me an element of the
monstrous, brought something alien and hostile into nature and its
"The battle of the spirit with the senses is the gospel of modern
man. I do not care to have a share in it."
"Yes, Mount Olympus would be the place for you, madame," I replied,
"but we moderns can no longer support the antique serenity, least of
all in love. The idea of sharing a woman, even if it were an Aspasia,
with another revolts us. We are jealous as is our God. For example,
we have made a term abuse out of the name of the glorious Phryne.
"We prefer one of Holbein's meagre, pallid virgins, which is wholly
ours to an antique Venus, no matter how divinely beautiful she is,
but who loves Anchises to-day, Paris to-morrow, Adonis the day after.
And if nature triumphs in us so that we give our whole glowing,
passionate devotion to such a woman, her serene joy of life appears
to us as something demonic and cruel, and we read into our happiness
a sin which we must expiate."
"So you too are one of those who rave about modern women, those
miserable hysterical feminine creatures who don't appreciate a real
man in their somnambulistic search for some dream-man and masculine
ideal. Amid tears and convulsions they daily outrage their Christian
duties; they cheat and are cheated; they always seek again and choose
and reject; they are never happy, and never give happiness. They
accuse fate instead of calmly confessing that they want to love and
live as Helen and Aspasia lived. Nature admits of no permanence in
the relation between man and woman."
"But, my dear lady--"
"Let me finish. It is only man's egoism which wants to keep woman
like some buried treasure. All endeavors to introduce permanence in
love, the most changeable thing in this changeable human existence,
have gone shipwreck in spite of religious ceremonies, vows, and
legalities. Can you deny that our Christian world has given itself
over to corruption?"
"But you are about to say, the individual who rebels against the
arrangements of society is ostracized, branded, stoned. So be it. I
am willing to take the risk; my principles are very pagan. I will
live my own life as it pleases me. I am willing to do without your
hypocritical respect; I prefer to be happy. The inventors of the
Christian marriage have done well, simultaneously to invent
immortality. I, however, have no wish to live eternally. When with
my last breath everything as far as Wanda von Dunajew is concerned
comes to an end here below, what does it profit me whether my pure
spirit joins the choirs of angels, or whether my dust goes into the
formation of new beings? Shall I belong to one man whom I don't love,
merely because I have once loved him? No, I do not renounce; I love
everyone who pleases me, and give happiness to everyone who loves me.
Is that ugly? No, it is more beautiful by far, than if cruelly I
enjoy the tortures, which my beauty excites, and virtuously reject
the poor fellow who is pining away for me. I am young, rich, and
beautiful, and I live serenely for the sake of pleasure and
While she was speaking her eyes sparkled roguishly, and I had taken
hold of her hands without exactly knowing what to do with them, but
being a genuine dilettante I hastily let go of them again.
"Your frankness," I said, "delights me, and not it alone--"
My confounded dilettantism again throttled me as though there were
a rope around my neck.
"You were about to say--"
"I was about to say--I was--I am sorry--I interrupted you."
A long pause. She is doubtless engaging in a monologue, which
translated into my language would be comprised in the single word,
"If I may ask," I finally began, "how did you arrive at these--these
"Quite simply, my father was an intelligent man. From my cradle onward
I was surrounded by replicas of ancient art; at ten years of age I
read _Gil Blas_, at twelve _La Pucelle_. Where others had
Hop-o'-my-thumb, Bluebeard, Cinderella, as childhood friends, mine
were Venus and Apollo, Hercules and Lackoon. My husband's personality
was filled with serenity and sunlight. Not even the incurable illness
which fell upon him soon after our marriage could long cloud his brow.
On the very night of his death he took me in his arms, and during the
many months when he lay dying in his wheel chair, he often said
jokingly to me: 'Well, have you already picked out a lover?' I blushed
with shame. 'Don't deceive me,' he added on one occasion, 'that would
seem ugly to me, but pick out an attractive lover, or preferably
several. You are a splendid woman, but still half a child, and you
"I suppose, I hardly need tell you that during his life time I had
no lover; but it was through him that I have become what I am, a
woman of Greece."
"A goddess," I interrupted.
"Which one," she smiled.
She threatened me with her finger and knitted her brows. "Perhaps,
even a 'Venus in Furs.' Watch out, I have a large, very large fur,
with which I could cover you up entirely, and I have a mind to catch
you in it as in a net."
"Do you believe," I said quickly, for an idea which seemed good, in
spite of its conventionality and triteness, flashed into my head, "do
you believe that your theories could be carried into execution at the
present time, that Venus would be permitted to stray with impunity
among our railroads and telegraphs in all her undraped beauty and
"_Undraped_, of course not, but in furs," she replied smiling, "would
you care to see mine?"
"Beautiful, free, serene, and happy human beings, such as the Greeks
were, are only possible when it is permitted to have _slaves_ who will
perform the prosaic tasks of every day for them and above all else
labor for them."
"Of course," she replied playfully, "an Olympian divinity, such as
I am, requires a whole army of slaves. Beware of me!"
I myself was frightened at the hardiness with which I uttered this
"why"; it did not startle her in the least.
She drew back her lips a little so that her small white teeth became
visible, and then said lightly, as if she were discussing some
trifling matter, "Do you want to be my slave?"
"There is no equality in love," I replied solemnly. "Whenever it is
a matter of choice for me of ruling or being ruled, it seems much
more satisfactory to me to be the slave of a beautiful woman. But
where shall I find the woman who knows how to rule, calmly, full of
self-confidence, even harshly, and not seek to gain her power by
means of petty nagging?"
"Oh, that might not be so difficult."
"I--for instance--" she laughed and leaned far back--"I have a real
talent for despotism--I also have the necessary furs--but last night
you were really seriously afraid of me!"
"Now, I am more afraid of you than ever!"
We are together every day, I and--Venus; we are together a great
deal. We breakfast in my honey-suckle arbor, and have tea in her
little sitting-room. I have an opportunity to unfold all my small,
very small talents. Of what use would have been my study of all the
various sciences, my playing at all the arts, if I were unable in the
case of a pretty, little woman--
But this woman is by no means little; in fact she impresses me
tremendously. I made a drawing of her to-day, and felt particularly
clearly, how inappropriate the modern way of dressing is for a cameo-
head like hers. The configuration of her face has little of the
Roman, but much of the Greek.
Sometimes I should like to paint her as Psyche, and then again as
Astarte. It depends upon the expression in her eyes, whether it is
vaguely dreamy, or half-consuming, filled with tired desire.
She, however, insists that it be a portrait-likeness.
I shall make her a present of furs.
How could I have any doubts? If not for her, for whom would princely
furs be suitable?
* * * * *
I was with her yesterday evening, reading the _Roman Elegies_ to her.
Then I laid the book aside, and improvised something for her. She
seemed pleased; rather more than that, she actually hung upon my
words, and her bosom heaved.
Or was I mistaken?
The rain beat in melancholy fashion on the window-panes, the fire
crackled in the fireplace in wintery comfort. I felt quite at home
with her, and for a moment lost all my fear of this beautiful woman;
I kissed her hand, and she permitted it.
Then I sat down at her feet and read a short poem I had written for
VENUS IN FURS.
"Place thy foot upon thy slave,
Oh thou, half of hell, half of dreams;
Among the shadows, dark and grave,
Thy extended body softly gleams."
And--so on. This time I really got beyond the first stanza. At her
request I gave her the poem in the evening, keeping no copy. And now
as I am writing this down in my diary I can only remember the first
I am filled with a very curious sensation. I don't believe that I am
in love with Wanda; I am sure that at our first meeting, I felt
nothing of the lightning-like flashes of passion. But I feel how her
extraordinary, really divine beauty is gradually winding magic snares
about me. It isn't any spiritual sympathy which is growing in me; it
is a physical subjection, coming on slowly, but for that reason more
I suffer under it more and more each day, and she--she merely smiles.
* * * * *
Without any provocation she suddenly said to me to-day: "You
interest me. Most men are very commonplace, without verve or poetry.
In you there is a certain depth and capacity for enthusiasm and a
deep seriousness, which delight me. I might learn to love you."
After a short but severe shower we went out together to the meadow
and the statue of Venus. All about us the earth steamed; mists rose
up toward heaven like clouds of incense; a shattered rainbow still
hovered in the air. The trees were still shedding drops, but sparrows
and finches were already hopping from twig to twig. They are
twittering gaily, as if very much pleased at something. Everything
is filled with a fresh fragrance. We cannot cross the meadow for it
is still wet. In the sunlight it looks like a small pool, and the
goddess of love seems to rise from the undulations of its mirror-like
surface. About her head a swarm of gnats is dancing, which,
illuminated by the sun, seem to hover above her like an aureole.
Wanda is enjoying the lovely scene. As all the benches along the
walk are still wet, she supports herself on my arm to rest a while.
A soft weariness permeates her whole being, her eyes are half closed;
I feel the touch of her breath on my cheek.
How I managed to get up courage enough I really don't know, but I
took hold of her hand, asking,
"Could you love me?"
"Why not," she replied, letting her calm, clear look rest upon me,
but not for long.
A moment later I am kneeling before her, pressing my burning face
against the fragrant muslin of her gown.
"But Severin--this isn't right," she cried.
But I take hold of her little foot, and press my lips upon it.
"You are getting worse and worse!" she cried. She tore herself free,
and fled rapidly toward the house, the while her adorable slipper
remained in my hand.
Is it an omen?
* * * * *
All day long I didn't dare to go near her. Toward evening as I was
sitting in my arbor her gay red head peered suddenly through the
greenery of her balcony. "Why don't you come up?" he called down
I ran upstairs, and at the top lost courage again. I knocked very
lightly. She didn't say come-in, but opened the door herself, and
stood on the threshold.
"Where is my slipper?"
"It is--I have--I want," I stammered.
"Get it, and then we will have tea together, and chat."
When I returned, she was engaged in making tea. I ceremoniously
placed the slipper on the table, and stood in the corner like a child
I noticed that her brows were slightly contracted, and there was an
expression of hardness and dominance about her lips which delighted
All of a sudden she broke out laughing.
"So--you are really in love--with me?"
"Yes, and I suffer more from it than you can imagine?"
"You suffer?" she laughed again.
I was revolted, mortified, annihilated, but all this was quite
"Why?" she continued, "I like you, with all my heart."
She gave me her hand, and looked at me in the friendliest fashion.
"And will you be my wife?"
Wanda looked at me--how did she look at me? I think first of all
with surprise, and then with a tinge of irony.
"What has given you so much courage, all at once?"
"Yes courage, to ask anyone to be your wife, and me in particular?"
She lifted up the slipper. "Was it through a sudden friendship with
this? But joking aside. Do you really wish to marry me?"
"Well, Severin, that is a serious matter. I believe, you love me,
and I care for you too, and what is more important each of us finds
the other interesting. There is no danger that we would soon get
bored, but, you know, I am a fickle person, and just for that reason
I take marriage seriously. If I assume obligations, I want to be able
to meet them. But I am afraid--no--it would hurt you."
"Please be perfectly frank with me," I replied.
"Well then honestly, I don't believe I could love a man longer than--
" She inclined her head gracefully to one side and mused.
"What do you imagine--a month perhaps."
"Not even me?"
"Oh you--perhaps two."
"Two months!" I exclaimed.
"Two months is very long."
"You go beyond antiquity, madame."
"You see, you cannot stand the truth."
Wanda walked across the room and leaned back against the fireplace,
watching me and resting one of her arms on the mantelpiece.
"What shall I do with you?" she began anew.
"Whatever you wish," I replied with resignation, "whatever will give
"How illogical!" she cried, "first you want to make me your wife,
and then you offer yourself to me as something to toy with."
"Wanda--I love you."
"Now we are back to the place where we started. You love me, and
want to make me your wife, but I don't want to enter into a new
marriage, because I doubt the permanence of both my and your
"But if I am willing to take the risk with you?" I replied.
"But it also depends on whether I am willing to risk it with you,"
she said quietly. "I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my
entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would
dominate me, who would subjugate me by his inate strength, do you
understand? And every man--I know this very well--as soon as he falls
in love becomes weak, pliable, ridiculous. He puts himself into the
woman's hands, kneels down before her. The only man whom I could love
permanently would be he before whom I should have to kneel. I've gotten
to like you so much, however, that I'll try it with you."
I fell down at her feet.
"For heaven's sake, here you are kneeling already," she said
mockingly. "You are making a good beginning." When I had risen again
she continued, "I will give you a year's time to win me, to convince
me that we are suited to each other, that we might live together. If
you succeed, I will become your wife, and a wife, Severin, who will
conscientiously and strictly perform all her duties. During this year
we will live as though we were married--"
My blood rose to my head.
In her eyes too there was a sudden flame--
"We will live together," she continued, "share our daily life, so that
we may find out whether we are really fitted for each other. _I grant
you all the rights of a husband, of a lover, of a friend._ Are you
"I suppose, I'll have to be?"
"You don't have to."
"Well then, I want to--"
"Splendid. That is how a man speaks. Here is my hand."
* * * * *
For ten days I have been with her every hour, except at night. All
the time I was allowed to look into her eyes, hold her hands, listen
to what she said, accompany her wherever she went.
My love seems to me like a deep, bottomless abyss, into which I
subside deeper and deeper. There is nothing now which could save me
This afternoon we were resting on the meadow at the foot of the
Venus-statue. I plucked flowers and tossed them into her lap; she
wound them into wreaths with which we adorned our goddess.
Suddenly Wanda looked at me so strangely that my senses became
confused and passion swept over my head like a conflagration. Losing
command over myself, I threw my arms about her and clung to her lips,
and she--she drew me close to her heaving breast.
"Are you angry?" I then asked her.
"I am never angry at anything that is natural--" she replied, "but
_I_ am afraid you suffer."
"Oh, I am suffering frightfully."
"Poor friend!" she brushed my disordered hair back from my fore-
head. "I hope it isn't through any fault of mine."
"No--" I replied,--"and yet my love for you has become a sort of
madness. The thought that I might lose you, perhaps actually lose
you, torments me day and night."
"But you don't yet possess me," said Wanda, and again she looked at
me with that vibrant, consuming expression, which had already once
before carried me away. Then she rose, and with her small transparent
hands placed a wreath of blue anemones upon the ringletted white head
of Venus. Half against my will I threw my arm around her body.
"I can no longer live without you, oh wonderful woman," I said.
"Believe me, believe only this once, that this time it is not a
phrase, not a thing of dreams. I feel deep down in my innermost soul,
that my life belongs inseparably with yours. If you leave me, I shall
perish, go to pieces."
"That will hardly be necessary, for I love you," she took hold of my
chin, "you foolish man!"
"But you will be mine only under conditions, while I belong to you
"That isn't wise, Severin," she replied almost with a start. "Don't
you know me yet, do you absolutely refuse to know me? I am good when
I am treated seriously and reasonably, but when you abandon yourself
too absolutely to me, I grow arrogant--"
"So be it, be arrogant, be despotic," I cried in the fulness of
exaltation, "only be mine, mine forever." I lay at her feet,
embracing her knees.
"Things will end badly, my friend," she said soberly, without moving.
"It shall never end," I cried excitedly, almost violently. "Only death
shall part us. If you cannot be mine, all mine and for always, then _I
want to be your slave_, serve you, suffer everything from you, if only
you won't drive me away."
"Calm yourself," she said, bending down and kissing my forehead, "I
am really very fond of you, but your way is not the way to win and
"I want to do everything, absolutely everything, that you want, only
not to lose you," I cried, "only not that, I cannot bear the thought."
"Do get up."
"You are a strange person," continued Wanda. "You wish to possess me
at any price?"
"Yes, at any price."
"But of what value, for instance, would that be?"--She pondered; a
lurking uncanny expression entered her eyes--"If I no longer loved
you, if I belonged to another."
A shudder ran through me. I looked at her She stood firmly and
confident before me, and her eyes disclosed a cold gleam.
"You see," she continued, "the very thought frightens you." A
beautiful smile suddenly illuminated her face.
"I feel a perfect horror, when I imagine, that the woman I love and
who has responded to my love could give herself to another regardless
of me. But have I still a choice? If I love such a woman, even unto
madness, shall I turn my back to her and lose everything for the sake
of a bit of boastful strength; shall I send a bullet through my
brains? I have two ideals of woman. If I cannot obtain the one that
is noble and simple, the woman who will faithfully and truly share
my life, well then I don't want anything half-way or lukewarm. Then
I would rather be subject to a woman without virtue, fidelity, or pity.
Such a woman in her magnificent selfishness is likewise an ideal. If
I am not permitted to enjoy the happiness of love, fully and wholly,
I want to taste its pains and torments to the very dregs; I want to
be maltreated and betrayed by the woman I love, and the more cruelly
the better. This too is a luxury."
"Have you lost your senses," cried Wanda.
"I love you with all my soul," I continued, "with all my senses, and
your presence and personality are absolutely essential to me, if I
am to go on living. Choose between my ideals. Do with me what you will,
make of me your husband or your slave."
"Very well," said Wanda, contracting her small but strongly arched
brows, "it seems to me it would be rather entertaining to have a man,
who interests me and loves me, completely in my power; at least I
shall not lack pastime. You were imprudent enough to leave the choice
to me. Therefore I choose; I want you to be my slave, I shall make
a plaything for myself out of you!"
"Oh, please do," I cried half-shuddering, half-enraptured. "If the
foundation of marriage depends on equality and agreement, it is
likewise true that the greatest passions rise out of opposites. We
are such opposites, almost enemies. That is why my love is part hate,
part fear. In such a relation only one can be hammer and the other
anvil. I wish to be the anvil. I cannot be happy when I look down
upon the woman I love. I want to adore a woman, and this I can only
do when she is cruel towards me."
"But, Severin," replied Wanda, almost angrily, "do you believe me
capable of maltreating a man who loves me as you do, and whom I love?"
"Why not, if I adore you the more on this account? _It is possible to
love really only that which stands above us,_ a woman, who through her
beauty, temperament, intelligence, and strength of will subjugates us
and becomes a despot over us."
"Then that which repels others, attracts you."
"Yes. That is the strange part of me."
"Perhaps, after all, there isn't anything so very unique or strange
in all your passions, for who doesn't love beautiful furs? And
everyone knows and feels how closely sexual love and cruelty are
"But in my case all these elements are raised to their highest
degree," I replied.
"In other words, reason has little power over you, and you are by
nature, soft, sensual, yielding."
"Were the martyrs also soft and sensual by nature?"
"On the contrary, they were _supersensual men,_ who found enjoyment in
suffering. They sought out the most frightful tortures, even death
itself, as others seek joy, and as they were, so am I--_supersensual."_
"Have a care that in being such, you do not become a martyr to love,
the _martyr of a woman_."
We are sitting on Wanda's little balcony in the mellow fragrant
summer night. A twofold roof is above us, first the green ceiling of
climbing-plants, and then the vault of heaven sown with innumerable
stars. The low wailing love-call of a cat rises from the park. I am
sitting on footstool at the feet of my divinity, and am telling her
of my childhood.
"And even then all these strange tendencies were distinctly marked
in you?" asked Wanda.
"Of course, I can't remember a time when I didn't have them. Even in
my cradle, so mother has told me, I was _supersensual._ I scorned the
healthy breast of my nurse, and had to be brought up on goats' milk.
As a little boy I was mysteriously shy before women, which really was
only an expression of an inordinate interest in them. I was oppressed
by the gray arches and half-darknesses of the church, and actually
afraid of the glittering altars and images of the saints. Secretly,
however, I sneaked as to a secret joy to a plaster-Venus which stood
in my father's little library. I kneeled down before her, and to her I
said the prayers I had been taught--the Paternoster, the Ave Maria,
and the Credo.
"Once at night I left my bed to visit her. The sickle of the moon
was my light and showed me the goddess in a pale-blue cold light. I
prostrated myself before her and kissed her cold feet, as I had seen
our peasants do when they kissed the feet of the dead Savior.
"An irresistible yearning seized me.
"I got up and embraced the beautiful cold body and kissed the cold
lips. A deep shudder fell upon me and I fled, and later in a dream,
it seemed to me, as if the goddess stood beside my bed, threatening
me with up-raised arm.
"I was sent to school early and soon reached the gymnasium. I
passionately grasped at everything which promised to make the world
of antiquity accessible to me. Soon I was more familiar with the gods
of Greece than with the religion of Jesus. I was with Paris when he
gave the fateful apple to Venus, I saw Troy burn, and followed
Ulysses on his wanderings. The prototypes of all that is beautiful
sank deep into my soul, and consequently at the time when other boys
are coarse and obscene, I displayed an insurmountable aversion to
everything base, vulgar, unbeautiful.
"To me, the maturing youth, love for women seemed something
especially base and unbeautiful, for it showed itself to me first in
all its commonness. I avoided all contact with the fair sex; in
short, I was supersensual to madness.
"When I was about fourteen my mother had a charming chamber-maid,
young, attractive, with a figure just budding into womanhood. I was
sitting one day studying my Tacitus and growing enthusiastic over the
virtues of the ancient Teutons, while she was sweeping my room.
Suddenly she stopped, bent down over me, in the meantime holding fast
to the broom, and a pair of fresh, full, adorable lips touched mine.
The kiss of the enamoured little cat ran through me like a shudder,
but I raised up my _Germania_, like a shield against the temptress,
and indignantly left the room."
Wanda broke out in loud laughter. "It would, indeed, be hard to find
another man like you, but continue."
"There is another unforgetable incident belonging to that period,"
I continued my story. "Countess Sobol, a distant aunt of mine, was
visiting my parents. She was a beautiful majestic woman with an
attractive smile. I, however, hated her, for she was regarded by the
family as a sort of Messalina. My behavior toward her was as rude,
malicious, and awkward as possible.
"One day my parents drove to the capital of the district. My aunt
determined to take advantage of their absence, and to exercise
judgment over me. She entered unexpectedly in her fur-lined
_kazabaika,_ [Footnote: A woman's jacket.] followed by the cook,
kitchen-maid, and the cat of a chamber-maid whom I had scorned.
Without asking any questions, they seized me and bound me hand and
foot, in spite of my violent resistance. Then my aunt, with an evil
smile, rolled up her sleeve and began to whip me with a stout switch.
She whipped so hard that the blood flowed, and that, at last,
notwithstanding my heroic spirit, I cried and wept and begged for
mercy. She then had me untied, but I had to get down on my knees and
thank her for the punishment and kiss her hand.
"Now you understand the supersensual fool! Under the lash of a
beautiful woman my senses first realized the meaning of woman. In her
fur-jacket she seemed to me like a wrathful queen, and from then on
my aunt became the most desirable woman on God's earth.
"My Cato-like austerity, my shyness before woman, was nothing but an
excessive feeling for beauty. In my imagination sensuality became a
sort of cult. I took an oath to myself that I would not squander its
holy wealth upon any ordinary person, but I would reserve it for an
ideal woman, if possible for the goddess of love herself.
"I went to the university at a very early age. It was in the capital
where my aunt lived. My room looked at that time like Doctor
Faustus's. Everything in it was in a wild confusion. There were huge
closets stuffed full of books, which I bought for a song from a
Jewish dealer on the Servanica; [Footnote: The street of the Jews in
Lemberg.] there were globes, atlases, flasks, charts of the heavens,
skeletons of animals, skulls, the busts of eminent men. It looked as
though Mephistopheles might have stepped out from behind the huge
green store as a wandering scholiast at any moment.
"I studied everything in a jumble without system, without selection:
chemistry, alchemy, history, astronomy, philosophy, law, anatomy, and
literature; I read Homer, Virgil, Ossian, Schiller, Goethe,
Shakespeare, Cervantes, Voltaire, Moliere, the Koran, the Kosmos,
Casanova's Memoirs. I grew more confused each day, more fantastical,
more supersensual. All the time a beautiful ideal woman hovered in my
imagination. Every so and so often she appeared before me like a
vision among my leather-bound books and dead bones, lying on a bed of
roses, surrounded by cupids. Sometimes she appeared gowned like the
Olympians with the stern white face of the plaster Venus; sometimes in
braids of a rich brown, blue-eyes, in my aunt's red velvet
_kazabaika,_ trimmed with ermine.
"One morning when she had again risen out of the golden mist of my
imagination in all her smiling beauty, I went to see Countess Sobol,
who received me in a friendly, even cordial manner. She gave me a
kiss of welcome, which put all my senses in a turmoil. She was
probably about forty years old, but like most well-preserved women
of the world, still very attractive. She wore as always her fur-edged
jacket. This time it was one of green velvet with brown marten. But
nothing of the sternness which had so delighted me the other time was
"On the contrary, there was so little of cruelty in her that without
any more ado she let me adore her.
"Only too soon did she discover my supersensual folly and innocence,
and it pleased her to make me happy. As for myself--I was as happy
as a young god. What rapture for me to be allowed to lie before her
on my knees, and to kiss her hands, those with which she had scourged
me! What marvellous hands they were, of beautiful form, delicate,
rounded, and white, with adorable dimples! I really was in love with
her hands only. I played with them, let them submerge and emerge in
the dark fur, held them against the light, and was unable to satiate
my eyes with them."
Wanda involuntarily looked at her hand; I noticed it, and had to
"From the way in which the supersensual predominated in me in those
days you can see that I was in love only with the cruel lashes I
received from my aunt; and about two years later when I paid court
to a young actress only in the roles she played. Still later I became
the admirer of a respectable woman. She acted the part of
irreproachable virtue, only in the end to betray me with a rich Jew.
You see, it is because I was betrayed, sold, by a woman who feigned
the strictest principles and the highest ideals, that I hate that
sort of poetical, sentimental virtue so intensely. Give me rather a
woman who is honest enough to say to me: I am a Pompadour, a Lucretia
Borgia, and I am ready to adore her."
Wanda rose and opened the window.
"You have a curious way of arousing one's imagination, stimulating
all one's nerves, and making one's pulses beat faster. You put an
aureole on vice, provided only if it is honest. Your ideal is a
daring courtesan of genius. Oh, you are the kind of man who will
corrupt a woman to her very last fiber."
* * * * *
In the middle of the night there was a knock at my window; I got up,
opened it, and was startled. Without stood "Venus in Furs," just as
she had appeared to me the first time.
"You have disturbed me with your stories; I have been tossing about
in bed, and can't go to sleep," she said. "Now come and stay with me."
"In a moment."
As I entered Wanda was crouching by the fireplace where she had
kindled a small fire.
"Autumn is coming," she began, "the nights are really quite cold
already. I am afraid you may not like it, but I can't put off my furs
until the room is sufficiently warm."
"Not like it--you are joking--you know--" I threw my arm around her,
and kissed her.
"Of course, I know, but why this great fondness for furs?"
"I was born with it," I replied. "I already had it as a child.
Furthermore furs have a stimulating effect on all highly organized
natures. This is due both to general and natural laws. It is a
physical stimulus which sets you tingling, and no one can wholly
escape it. Science has recently shown a certain relationship between
electricity and warmth; at any rate, their effects upon the human
organism are related. The torrid zone produces more passionate
characters, a heated atmosphere stimulation. Likewise with
electricity. This is the reason why the presence of cats exercises
such a magic influence upon highly-organized men of intellect. This
is why these long-tailed Graces of the animal kingdom, these
adorable, scintillating electric batteries have been the favorite
animal of a Mahommed, Cardinal Richelieu, Crebillon, Rousseau,
"A woman wearing furs, then," cried Wanda, "is nothing else than a
large cat, an augmented electric battery?"
"Certainly," I replied. "That is my explanation of the symbolic
meaning which fur has acquired as the attribute of power and beauty.
Monarchs and the dominant higher nobility in former times used it in
this sense for their costume, exclusively; great painters used it
only for queenly beauty. The most beautiful frame, which Raphael
could find for the divine forms of Fornarina and Titian for the
roseate body of his beloved, was dark furs."
"Thanks for the learned discourse on love," said Wanda, "but you
haven't told me everything. You associate something entirely
individual with furs."
"Certainly," I cried. "I have repeatedly told you that suffering has
a peculiar attraction for me. Nothing can intensify my passion more
than tyranny, cruelty, and especially the faithlessness of a
beautiful woman. And I cannot imagine this woman, this strange ideal
derived from an aesthetics of ugliness, this soul of Nero in the body
of a Phryne, except in furs."
"I understand," Wanda interrupted. "It gives a dominant and imposing
quality to a woman."
"Not only that," I continued. "You know I am _supersensual._ With me
everything has its roots in the imagination, and thence it receives
its nourishment. I was already pre-maturely developed and highly
sensitive, when at about the age of ten the legends of the martyrs
fell into my hands. I remember reading with a kind of horror, which
really was rapture, of how they pined in prisons, were laid on the
gridiron, pierced with arrows, boiled in pitch, thrown to wild
animals, nailed to the cross, and suffered the most horrible torment
with a kind of joy. To suffer and endure cruel torture from then on
seemed to me exquisite delight, especially when it was inflicted by a
beautiful woman, for ever since I can remember all poetry and
everything demonic was for me concentrated in woman. I literally
carried the idea into a sort of cult.
"I felt there was something sacred in sex; in fact, it was the only
sacred thing. In woman and her beauty I saw something divine, because
the most important function of existence--the continuation of the
species--is her vocation. To me woman represented a personification of
nature, _Isis_, and man was her priest, her slave. In contrast to him
she was cruel like nature herself who tosses aside whatever has served
her purposes as soon as she no longer has need for it. To him her
cruelties, even death itself, still were sensual raptures.
"I envied King Gunther whom the mighty Brunhilde fettered on the
bridal night, and the poor troubadour whom his capricious mistress
had sewed in the skins of wolves to have him hunted like game. I
envied the Knight Ctirad whom the daring Amazon Scharka craftily
ensnared in a forest near Prague, and carried to her castle Divin,
where, after having amused herself a while with him, she had him
broken on the wheel--"
"Disgusting," cried Wanda. "I almost wish you might fall into the
hands of a woman of their savage race. In the wolf's skin, under the
teeth of the dogs, or upon the wheel, you would lose the taste for
your kind of poetry."
"Do you think so? I hardly do."
"Have you actually lost your senses."
"Possibly. But let me go on. I developed a perfect passion for
reading stories in which the extremest cruelties were described. I
loved especially to look at pictures and prints which represented
them. All the sanguinary tyrants that ever occupied a throne; the
inquisitors who had the heretics tortured, roasted, and butchered;
all the woman whom the pages of history have recorded as lustful,
beautiful, and violent women like Libussa, Lucretia Borgia, Agnes of
Hungary, Queen Margot, Isabeau, the Sultana Roxolane, the Russian
Czarinas of last century--all these I saw in furs or in robes
bordered with ermine."
"And so furs now rouse strange imaginings in you," said Wanda, and
simultaneously she began to drape her magnificent fur-cloak
coquettishly about her, so that the dark shining sable played
beautifully around her bust and arms. "Well, how do you feel now,
half broken on the wheel?"
Her piercing green eyes rested on me with a peculiar mocking
satisfaction. Overcome by desire, I flung myself down before her, and
threw my arms about her.
"Yes--you have awakened my dearest dream," I cried. "It has slept
"And this is?" She put her hand on my neck.
I was seized with a sweet intoxication under the influence of this
warm little hand and of her regard, which, tenderly searching, fell
upon me through her half-closed lids.
_"To be the slave of a woman, a beautiful woman, whom I love, whom
"And who on that account maltreats you," interrupted Wanda, laughing.
"Yes, who fetters me and whips me, treads me underfoot, the while
she gives herself to another."
"And who in her wantonness will go so far as to make a present of
you to your successful rival when driven insane by jealousy you must
meet him face to face, who will turn you over to his absolute mercy.
Why not? This final tableau doesn't please you so well?"
I looked at Wanda frightened.
"You surpass my dreams."
"Yes, we women are inventive," she said, "take heed, when you find
your ideal, it might easily happen, that she will treat you more
cruelly than you anticipate."
"I am afraid that I have already found my ideal!" I exclaimed,
burying my burning face in her lap.
"Not I?" exclaimed Wanda, throwing off her furs and moving about the
room laughing. She was still laughing as I went downstairs, and when
I stood musing in the yard, I still heard her peals of laughter above.
* * * * *
"Do you really then expect me to embody your ideal?" Wanda asked
archly, when we met in the park to-day.
At first I could find no answer. The most antagonistic emotions were
battling within me. In the meantime she sat down on one of the stone-
benches, and played with a flower.
I kneeled down and seized her hands.
"Once more I beg you to become my wife, my true and loyal wife; if
you can't do that then become the embodiment of my ideal, absolutely,
without reservation, without softness."
"You know I am ready at the end of a year to give you my hand, if
you prove to be the man I am seeking," Wanda replied very seriously,
"but I think you would be more grateful to me if through me you
realized your imaginings. Well, which do you prefer?"
"I believe that everything my imagination has dreamed lies latent in
"You are mistaken."
"I believe," I continued, "that you enjoy having a man wholly in
your power, torturing him--"
"No, no," she exclaimed quickly, "or perhaps--." She pondered.
"I don't understand myself any longer," she continued, "but I have
a confession to make to you. You have corrupted my imagination and
inflamed my blood. I am beginning to like the things you speak of.
The enthusiasm with which you speak of a Pompadour, a Catherine the
Second, and all the other selfish, frivolous, cruel women, carries
me away and takes hold of my soul. It urges me on to become like those
women, who in spite of their vileness were slavishly adored during
their lifetime and still exert a miraculous power from their graves.
"You will end by making of me a despot in miniature, a domestic
"Well then," I said in agitation, "if all this is inherent in you,
give way to this trend of your nature. Nothing half-way. If you can't
be a true and loyal wife to me, be a demon."
I was nervous from loss of sleep, and the proximity of the beautiful
woman affected me like a fever. I no longer recall what I said, but
I remember that I kissed her feet, and finally raised her foot and
put my neck under it. She withdrew it quickly, and rose almost angrily.
"If you love me, Severin," she said quickly, and her voice sounded
sharp and commanding, "never speak to me of those things again.
Understand, never! Otherwise I might really--" She smiled and sat
"I am entirely serious," I exclaimed, half-raving. "I adore you so
infinitely that I am willing to suffer anything from you, for the
sake of spending my whole life near you."
"Severin, once more I warn you."
"Your warning is vain. Do with me what you will, as long as you
don't drive me away."
"Severin," replied Wanda, "I am a frivolous young woman; it is
dangerous for you to put yourself so completely in my power. You will
end by actually becoming a plaything to me. Who will give warrant
that I shall not abuse your insane desire?"
"Your own nobility of character."
"Power makes people over-bearing."
"Be it," I cried, "tread me underfoot."
Wanda threw her arms around my neck, looked into my eyes, and shook
"I am afraid I can't, but I will try, for your sake, for I love you
Severin, as I have loved no other man."
* * * * *
To-day she suddenly took her hat and shawl, and I had to go shopping
with her. She looked at whips, long whips with a short handle, the
kind that are used on dogs.
"Are these satisfactory?" said the shopkeeper.
"No, they are much too small," replied Wanda, with a side-glance at
me. "I need a large--"
"For a bull-dog, I suppose?" opined the merchant.
"Yes," she exclaimed, "of the kind that are used in Russia for
She looked further and finally selected a whip, at whose sight I
felt a strange creeping sensation.
"Now good-by, Severin," she said. "I have some other purchases to
make, but you can't go along."
I left her and took a walk. On the way back I saw Wanda coming out
at a furrier's. She beckoned me.
"Consider it well," she began in good spirits, "I have never made a
secret of how deeply your serious, dreamy character has fascinated
me. The idea of seeing this serious man wholly in my power, actually
lying enraptured at my feet, of course, stimulates me--but will this
attraction last? Woman loves a man; she maltreats a slave, and ends
by kicking him aside."
"Very well then, kick me aside," I replied, "when you are tired of
me. I want to be your slave."
"Dangerous forces lie within me," said Wanda, after we had gone a
few steps further. "You awaken them, and not to your advantage. You
know how to paint pleasure, cruelty, arrogance in glowing colors.
What would you say should I try my hand at them, and make you the
first object of my experiments. I would be like Dionysius who had the
inventor of the iron ox roasted within it in order to see whether his
wails and groans really resembled the bellowing of an ox.
"Perhaps I am a female Dionysius?"
"Be it," I exclaimed, "and my dreams will be fulfilled. I am yours
for good or evil, choose. The destiny that lies concealed within my
breast drives me on--demoniacally--relentlessly."
I do not care to see you to-day or to-morrow, and not until evening
the day after tomorrow, and then _as my slave_.
"As my slave" was underlined. I read the note which I received early
in the morning a second time. Then I had a donkey saddled, an animal
symbolic of learned professors, and rode into the mountains. I wanted
to numb my desire, my yearning, with the magnificent scenery of the
Carpathians. I am back, tired, hungry, thirsty, and more in love than
ever. I quickly change my clothes, and a few moments later knock at
I enter. She is standing in the center of the room, dressed in a gown
of white satin which floods down her body like light. Over it she
wears a scarlet _kazabaika_, richly edged with ermine. Upon her
powdered, snowy hair is a little diadem of diamonds. She stands with
her arms folded across her breast, and with her brows contracted.
"Wanda!" I run toward her, and am about to throw my arm about her to
kiss her. She retreats a step, measuring me from top to bottom.
"Mistress!" I kneel down, and kiss the hem of her garment.
"That is as it should be."
"Oh, how beautiful you are."
"Do I please you?" She stepped before the mirror, and looked at
herself with proud satisfaction.
"I shall become mad!"
Her lower lip twitched derisively, and she looked at me mockingly
from behind half-closed lids.
"Give me the whip."
I looked about the room.
"No," she exclaimed, "stay as you are, kneeling." She went over to
the fire-place, took the whip from the mantle-piece, and, watching
me with a smile, let it hiss through the air; then she slowly rolled
up the sleeve of her fur-jacket.
"Marvellous woman!" I exclaimed.
"Silence, slave!" She suddenly scowled, looked savage, and struck me
with the whip. A moment later she threw her arm tenderly about me,
and pityingly bent down to me. "Did I hurt you?" she asked, half-
"No," I replied, "and even if you had, pains that come through you
are a joy. Strike again, if it gives you pleasure."
"But it doesn't give me pleasure."
Again I was seized with that strange intoxication.
"Whip me," I begged, "whip me without mercy."
Wanda swung the whip, and hit me twice. "Are you satisfied now?"
"Whip me, I beg you, it is a joy to me."
"Yes, because you know very well that it isn't serious," she
replied, "because I haven't the heart to hurt you. This brutal game
goes against my grain. Were I really the woman who beats her slaves
you would be horrified."
"No, Wanda," I replied, "I love you more than myself; I am devoted
to you for death and life. In all seriousness, you can do with me
whatever you will, whatever your caprice suggests."
"Tread me underfoot!" I exclaimed, and flung myself face to the
floor before her.
"I hate all this play-acting," said Wanda impatiently.
"Well, then maltreat me seriously."
An uncanny pause.
"Severin, I warn you for the last time," began Wanda.
"If you love me, be cruel towards me," I pleaded with upraised eyes.
"If I love you," repeated Wanda. "Very well!" She stepped back and
looked at me with a sombre smile. _"Be then my slave, and know what
it means to be delivered into the hands of a woman."_ And at the
same moment she gave me a kick.
"How do you like that, slave?"
Then she flourished the whip.
I was about to rise.
"Not that way," she commanded, "on your knees."
I obeyed, and she began to apply the lash.
The blows fell rapidly and powerfully on my back and arms. Each one
cut into my flesh and burned there, but the pains enraptured me. They
came from her whom I adored, and for whom I was ready at any hour to
lay down my life.
She stopped. "I am beginning to enjoy it," she said, "but enough for
to-day. I am beginning to feel a demonic curiosity to see how far
your strength goes. I take a cruel joy in seeing you tremble and
writhe beneath my whip, and in hearing your groans and wails; I want
to go on whipping without pity until you beg for mercy, until you
lose your senses. You have awakened dangerous elements in my being.
But now get up."
I seized her hand to press it to my lips.
She shoved me away with her foot.
"Out of my sight, slave!"
* * * * *
After having spent a feverish night filled with confused dreams, I
awoke. Dawn was just beginning to break.
How much of what was hovering in my memory was true; what had I
actually experienced and what had I dreamed? That I had been whipped
was certain. I can still feel each blow, and count the burning red
stripes on my body. And _she_ whipped me. Now I know everything.
My dream has become truth. How does it make me feel? Am I
disappointed in the realization of my dream?
No, I am merely somewhat tired, but her cruelty has enraptured me.
Oh, how I love her, adore her! All this cannot express in the
remotest way my feeling for her, my complete devotion to her. What
happiness to be her slave!
* * * * *
She calls to me from her balcony. I hurry upstairs. She is standing
on the threshold, holding out her hand in friendly fashion. "I am
ashamed of myself," she says, while I embrace her, and she hides her
head against my breast.
"Please try to forget the ugly scene of yesterday," she said with
quivering voice, "I have fulfilled your mad wish, now let us be
reasonable and happy and love each other, and in a year I will be
"My mistress," I exclaimed, "and I your slave!"
"Not another word of slavery, cruelty, or the whip," interrupted
Wanda. "I shall not grant you any of those favors, none except
wearing my fur-jacket; come and help me into it."
* * * * *
The little bronze clock on which stood a cupid who had just shot his
bolt struck midnight.
I rose, and wanted to leave.
Wanda said nothing, but embraced me and drew me back on the ottoman.
She began to kiss me anew, and this silent language was so
comprehensible, so convincing--
And it told me more than I dared to understand.
A languid abandonment pervaded Wanda's entire being. What a
voluptuous softness there was in the gloaming of her half-closed
eyes, in the red flood of her hair which shimmered faintly under the
white powder, in the red and white satin which crackled about her
with every movement, in the swelling ermine of the _kazabaika_
in which she carelessly nestled.
"Please," I stammered, "but you will be angry with me."
"Do with me what you will," she whispered.
"Well, then whip me, or I shall go mad."
"Haven't I forbidden you," said Wanda sternly, "but you are
"Oh, I am so terribly in love." I had sunken on my knees, and was
burying my glowing face in her lap.
"I really believe," said Wanda thoughtfully, "that your madness is
nothing but a demonic, unsatisfied sensuality. _Our unnatural way
of life must generate such illnesses._ Were you less virtuous, you
would be completely sane."
"Well then, make me sane," I murmured. My hands were running through
her hair and playing tremblingly with the gleaming fur, which rose
and fell like a moonlit wave upon her heaving bosom, and drove all
my senses into confusion.
And I kissed her. No, she kissed me savagely, pitilessly, as if she
wanted to slay me with her kisses. I was as in a delirium, and had
long since lost my reason, but now I, too, was breathless. I sought
to free myself.
"What is the matter?" asked Wanda.
"I am suffering agonies."
"You are suffering--" she broke out into a loud amused laughter.
"You laugh!" I moaned, "have you no idea--"
She was serious all of a sudden. She raised my head in her hands,
and with a violent gesture drew me to her breast.
"Wanda," I stammered.
"Of course, you enjoy suffering," she said, and laughed again, "but
wait, I'll bring you to your senses."
"No, I will no longer ask," I exclaimed, "whether you want to belong
to me for always or for only a brief moment of intoxication. I want
to drain my happiness to the full. You are mine now, and I would
rather lose you than never to have had you."
"Now you are sensible," she said. She kissed me again with her
murderous lips. I tore the ermine apart and the covering of lace and
her naked breast surged against mine.
Then my senses left me--
The first thing I remember is the moment when I saw blood dripping
from my hand, and she asked apathetically: "Did you scratch me?"
"No, I believe, I have bitten you."
* * * * *
It is strange how every relation in life assumes a different face as
soon as a new person enters.
We spent marvellous days together; we visited the mountains and
lakes, we read together, and I completed Wanda's portrait. And how
we loved one another, how beautiful her smiling face was!
Then a friend of hers arrived, a divorced woman somewhat older, more
experienced, and less scrupulous than Wanda. Her influence is already
making itself felt in every direction.
Wanda wrinkles her brows, and displays a certain impatience with me.
Has she ceased loving me?
* * * * *
For almost a fortnight this unbearable restraint has lain upon us.
Her friend lives with her, and we are never alone. A circle of men
surrounds the young women. With my seriousness and melancholy I am
playing an absurd role as lover. Wanda treats me like a stranger.
To-day, while out walking, she staid behind with me. I saw that this
was done intentionally, and I rejoiced. But what did she tell me?
"My friend doesn't understand how I can love you. She doesn't think
you either handsome or particularly attractive otherwise. She is
telling me from morning till night about the glamour of the frivolous
life in the capital, hinting at the advantages to which I could lay
claim, the large parties which I would find there, and the
distinguished and handsome admirers which I would attract. But of
what use is all this, since it happens that I love you."
For a moment I lost my breath, then I said: "I have no wish to stand
in the way of your happiness, Wanda. Do not consider me." Then I
raised my hat, and let her go ahead. She looked at me surprised, but
did not answer a syllable.
When by chance I happened to be close to her on the way back, she
secretly pressed my hand. Her glance was so radiant, so full of
promised happiness, that in a moment all the torments of these days
were forgotten and all their wounds healed.
I now am aware again of how much I love her.
* * * * *
"My friend has complained about you," said Wanda to-day.
"Perhaps she feels that I despise her."
"But why do you despise her, you foolish young man?" exclaimed
Wanda, pulling my ears with both hands.
"Because she is a hypocrite," I said. "I respect only a woman who is
actually virtuous, or who openly lives for pleasure's sake."
"Like me, for instance," replied Wanda jestingly, "but you see,
child, a woman can only do that in the rarest cases. She can neither
be as gaily sensual, nor as spiritually free as man; her state is
always a mixture of the sensual and spiritual. Her heart desires to
enchain man permanently, while she herself is ever subject to the
desire for change. The result is a conflict, and thus usually against
her wishes lies and deception enter into her actions and personality
and corrupt her character."
"Certainly that is true," I said. "The transcendental character with
which woman wants to stamp love leads her to deception."
"But the world likewise demands it," Wanda interrupted. "Look at
this woman. She has a husband and a lover in Lemberg and has found
a new admirer here. She deceives all three and yet is honored by all
and respected by the world."
"I don't care," I exclaimed, "but she is to leave you alone; she
treats you like an article of commerce."
"Why not?" the beautiful woman interrupted vivaciously. "Every woman
has the instinct or desire to draw advantage out of her attractions,
and much is to be said for giving one's self without love or pleasure
because if you do it in cold blood, you can reap profit to best
"Wanda, what are you saying?"
"Why not?" she said, "and take note of what I am about to say to you.
_Never feel secure with the woman you love,_ for there are more
dangers in woman's nature than you imagine. Women are neither as
_good_ as their admirers and defenders maintain, nor as _bad_ as their
enemies make them out to be. _Woman's character is characterlessness._
The best woman will momentarily go down into the mire, and the worst
unexpectedly rises to deeds of greatness and goodness and puts to
shame those that despise her. No woman is so good or so bad, but that
at any moment she is capable of the most diabolical as well as of the
most divine, of the filthiest as well as of the purest, thoughts,
emotions, and actions. In spite of all the advances of civilization,
woman has remained as she came out of the hand of nature. She has the
nature of a savage, who is faithful or faithless, magnanimous or
cruel, according to the impulse that dominates at the moment.
Throughout history it has always been a serious deep culture which has
produced moral character. Man even when he is selfish or evil always
follows _principles,_ woman never follows anything but _impulses._
Don't ever forget that, and never feel secure with the woman you
* * * * *
Her friend has left. At last an evening alone with her again. It
seems as if Wanda had saved up all the love, which had been kept from
her, for this superlative evening; never had she been so kind, so
near, so full of tenderness.
What happiness to cling to her lips, and to die away in her arms! In
a state of relaxation and wholly mine, her head rests against my
breast, and with drunken rapture our eyes seek each other.
I cannot yet believe, comprehend, that this woman is mine, wholly
"She is right on one point," Wanda began, without moving, without
opening her eyes, as if she were asleep.
She remained silent.
She nodded. "Yes, she is right, you are not a man, you are a
dreamer, a charming cavalier, and you certainly would be a priceless
slave, but I cannot imagine you as husband."
I was frightened.
"What is the matter? You are trembling?"
"I tremble at the thought of how easily I might lose you," I replied.
"Are you made less happy now, because of this?" she replied. "Does
it rob you of any of your joys, that I have belonged to another
before I did to you, that others after you will possess me, and would
you enjoy less if another were made happy simultaneously with you?"
"You see," she continued, "that would be a way out. You won't ever
lose me then. I care deeply for you and intellectually we are
harmonious, and I should like to live with you always, if in addition
to you I might have--"
"What an idea," I cried. "You fill me with a sort of horror."
"Do you love me any the less?"
"On the contrary."
Wanda had raised herself on her left arm. "I believe," she said,
"that to hold a man permanently, it is vitally important not to be
faithful to him. What honest woman has ever been as devotedly loved
as a hetaira?"
"There is a painful stimulus in the unfaithfulness of a beloved
woman. It is the highest kind of ecstacy."
"For you, too?" Wanda asked quickly.
"For me, too."
"And if I should give you that pleasure," Wanda exclaimed mockingly.
"I shall suffer terrible agonies, but I shall adore you the more,"
I replied. "But you would never deceive me, you would have the daemonic
greatness of saying to me: I shall love no one but you, but I shall
make happy whoever pleases me."
Wanda shook her head. "I don't like deception, I am honest, but what
man exists who can support the burden of truth. Were I say to you:
this serene, sensual life, this paganism is my ideal, would you be
strong enough to bear it?"
"Certainly. I could endure anything so as not to lose you. I feel
how little I really mean to you."
"But it is so," said I, "and just for that reason--"
"For that reason you would--" she smiled roguishly--"have I guessed
"Be your slave!" I exclaimed. "Be your unrestricted property,
without a will of my own, of which you could dispose as you wished,
and which would therefore never be a burden to you. While you drink
life at its fullness, while surrounded by luxury, you enjoy the
serene happiness and Olympian love, I want to be your servant, put
on and take off your shoes."
"You really aren't so far from wrong," replied Wanda, "for only as
my slave could you endure my loving others. Furthermore the freedom
of enjoyment of the ancient world is unthinkable without slavery. It
must give one a feeling of like unto a god to see a man kneel before
one and tremble. I want a slave, do you hear, Severin?"
"Am I not your slave?"
"Then listen to me," said Wanda excitedly, seizing my hand. "I want
to be yours, as long as I love you."
"Perhaps, even two."
"Then you become my slave."
"I? Why do you ask? I am a goddess and sometimes I descend from my
Olympian heights to you, softly, very softly, and secretly.
"But what does all this mean," said Wanda, resting her head in both
hands with her gaze lost in the distance, "a golden fancy which never
can become true." An uncanny brooding melancholy seemed shed over her
entire being; I have never seen her like that.
"Why unachievable?" I began.
"Because slavery doesn't exist any longer."
"Then we will go to a country where it still exists, to the Orient,
to Turkey," I said eagerly.
"You would--Severin--in all seriousness," Wanda replied. Her eyes
"Yes, in all seriousness, I want to be your slave," I continued. "I
want your power over me to be sanctified by law; I want my life to
be in your hands, I want nothing that could protect or save me from
you. Oh, what a voluptuous joy when once I feel myself entirely dependent
upon your absolute will, your whim, at your beck and call. And then
what happiness, when at some time you deign to be gracious, and the
slave may kiss the lips which mean life and death to him." I knelt
down, and leaned my burning forehead against her knee.
"You are talking as in a fever," said Wanda agitatedly, "and you
really love me so endlessly." She held me to her breast, and covered
me with kisses.
"You really want it?"
"I swear to you now by God and my honor, that I shall be your slave,
wherever and whenever you wish it, as soon as you command," I
exclaimed, hardly master of myself.
"And if I take you at your word?" said Wanda.
"All this appeals to me," she said then. "It is different from
anything else--to know that a man who worships me, and whom I love
with all my heart, is so wholly mine, dependent on my will and
caprice, my possession and slave, while I--"
She looked strangely at me.
"If I should become frightfully frivolous you are to blame," she
continued. "It almost seems as if you were afraid of me already, but
you have sworn."
"And I shall keep my oath."
"I shall see to that," she replied. "I am beginning to enjoy it,
and, heaven help me, we won't stick to fancies now. You shall become
my slave, and I--I shall try to be _Venus in Furs_."
* * * * *
I thought that at last I knew this woman, understood her, and now I
see I have to begin at the very beginning again. Only a little while
ago her reaction to my dreams was violently hostile, and now she
tries to carry them into execution with the soberest seriousness.
She has drawn up a contract according to which I give my word of
honor and agree under oath to be her slave, as long as she wishes.
With her arm around my neck she reads this, unprecedented,
incredible document to me. The end of each sentence she punctuates
with a kiss.
"But all the obligations in the contract are on my side," I said,
"Of course," she replied with great seriousness, "you cease to be my
lover, and consequently I am released from all duties and obligations
towards you. You will have to look upon my favors as pure
benevolence. You no longer have any rights, and no longer can lay
claim to any. There can be no limit to my power over you. Remember,
that you won't be much better than a dog, or some inanimate object.
You will be mine, my plaything, which I can break to pieces, whenever
I want an hour's amusement. You are nothing, I am everything. Do you
understand?" She laughed and kissed me again, and yet a sort of cold
shiver ran through me.
"Won't you allow me a few conditions--" I began.
"Conditions?" She contracted her forehead. "Ah! You are afraid
already, or perhaps you regret, but it is too late now. You have
sworn, I have your word of honor. But let me hear them."
"First of all I should like to have it included in our contract,
that you will never completely leave me, and then that you will never
give me over to the mercies of any of your admirers--"
"But Severin," exclaimed Wanda with her voice full of emotion and
with tears in her eyes, "how can you imagine that I--and you, a man
who loves me so absolutely, who puts himself so entirely in my power--"
"No, no!" I said, covering her hands with kisses. "I don't fear
anything from you that might dishonor me. Forgive me the ugly
Wanda smiled happily, leaned her cheek against mine, and seemed to
"You have forgotten something," she whispered coquettishly, "the
most important thing!"
"Yes, that I must always wear my furs," exclaimed Wanda. "But I
promise you I'll do that anyhow because they give me a despotic
feeling. And I shall be very cruel to you, do you understand?"
"Shall I sign the contract?" I asked.
"Not yet," said Wanda. "I shall first add your conditions, and the
actual signing won't occur until the proper time and place."
"No. I have thought things over. What special value would there be
in owning a slave where everyone owns slaves. What I want is to
_have a slave, I alone,_ here in our civilized sober, Philistine
world, and a slave who submits helplessly to my power solely on
account of my beauty and personality, not because of law, of property
rights, or compulsions. This attracts me. But at any rate we will go
to a country where we are not known and where you can appear before
the world as my servant without embarrassment. Perhaps to Italy, to
Rome or Naples."
* * * * *
We were sitting on Wanda's ottoman. She wore her ermine jacket, her
hair was loose and fell like a lion's mane down her back. She clung
to my lips, drawing my soul from my body. My head whirled, my blood
began to seethe, my heart beat violently against hers.
"I want to be absolutely in your power, Wanda," I exclaimed
suddenly, seized by that frenzy of passion when I can scarcely think
clearly or decide freely. "I want to put myself absolutely at your
mercy for good or evil without any condition, without any limit to
While saying this I had slipped from the ottoman, and lay at her
feet looking up at her with drunken eyes.
"How beautiful you now are," she exclaimed, "your eyes half-broken
in ecstacy fill me with joy, carry me away. How wonderful your look
would be if you were being beaten to death, in the extreme agony. You
have the eye of a martyr."
* * * * *
Sometimes, nevertheless, I have an uneasy feeling about placing
myself so absolutely, so unconditionally into a woman's hands.
Suppose she did abuse my passion, her power?
Well, then I would experience what has occupied my imagination since
my childhood, what has always given me the feeling of seductive
terror. A foolish apprehension! It will be a wanton game she will play
with me, nothing more. She loves me, and she is good, a noble
personality, incapable of a breach of faith. But it lies in her hands
--_if she wants to she can._ What a temptation in this doubt, this
Now I understand Manon l'Escault and the poor chevalier, who, even
in the pillory, while she was another man's mistress, still adored
Love knows no virtue, no profit; it loves and forgives and suffers
everything, because it must. It is not our judgment that leads us;
it is neither the advantages nor the faults which we discover, that
make us abandon ourselves, or that repel us.
It is a sweet, soft, enigmatic power that drives us on. We cease to
think, to feel, to will; we let ourselves be carried away by it, and
ask not whither?
* * * * *
A Russian prince made his first appearance today on the promenade.
He aroused general interest on account of his athletic figure,
magnificent face, and splendid bearing. The women particularly gaped
at him as though he were a wild animal, but he went his way gloomily
without paying attention to any one. He was accompanied by two
servants, one a negro, completely dressed in red satin, and the other
a Circassian in his full gleaming uniform. Suddenly he saw Wanda, and
fixed his cold piercing look upon her; he even turned his head after
her, and when she had passed, he stood still and followed her with
And she--she veritably devoured him with her radiant green eyes--and
did everything possible to meet him again.
The cunning coquetry with which she walked, moved, and looked at
him, almost stifled me. On the way home I remarked about it. She knit
"What do you want," she said, "the prince is a man whom I might
like, who even dazzles me, and I am free. I can do what I please--"
"Don't you love me any longer--" I stammered, frightened.
"I love only you," she replied, "but I shall have the prince pay
court to me."
"Aren't you my slave?" she said calmly. "Am I not Venus, the cruel
northern Venus in Furs?"
I was silent. I felt literally crushed by her words; her cold look
entered my heart like a dagger.
"You will find out immediately the prince's name, residence, and
circumstances," she continued. "Do you understand?"
"No argument, obey!" exclaimed Wanda, more sternly than I would have
thought possible for her, "and don't dare to enter my sight until you
can answer my questions."
It was not till afternoon that I could obtain the desired
information for Wanda. She let me stand before her like a servant,
while she leaned back in her arm-chair and listened to me, smiling.
Then she nodded; she seemed to be satisfied.
"Bring me my footstool," she commanded shortly.
I obeyed, and after having put it before her and having put her feet
on it, I remained kneeling.
"How will this end?" I asked sadly after a short pause.
She broke into playful laughter. "Why things haven't even begun yet."
"You are more heartless than I imagined," I replied, hurt.
"Severin," Wanda began earnestly. "I haven't done anything yet, not
the slightest thing, and you are already calling me heartless. What
will happen when I begin to carry your dreams to their realization,
when I shall lead a gay, free life and have a circle of admirers
about me, when I shall actually fulfil your ideal, tread you
underfoot and apply the lash?"
"You take my dreams too seriously."
"Too seriously? I can't stop at make-believe, when once I begin,"
she replied. "You know I hate all play-acting and comedy. You have
wished it. Was it my idea or yours? Did I persuade you or did you
inflame my imagination? I am taking things seriously now."
"Wanda," I replied, caressingly, "listen quietly to me. We love each
other infinitely, we are very happy, will you sacrifice our entire
future to a whim?"
"It is no longer a whim," she exclaimed.
"What is it?" I asked frightened.
"Something that was probably latent in me," she said quietly and
thoughtfully. "Perhaps it would never have come to light, if you had
not called it to life, and made it grow. Now that it has become a
powerful impulse, fills my whole being, now that I enjoy it, now that
I cannot and do not want to do otherwise, now you want to back out--
you--are you a man?"
"Dear, sweet Wanda!" I began to caress her, kiss her.
"Don't--you are not a man--"
"And you," I flared up.
"I am stubborn," she said, "you know that. I haven't a strong
imagination, and like you I am weak in execution. But when I make up
my mind to do something, I carry it through, and the more certainly,
the more opposition I meet. Leave me alone!"
She pushed me away, and got up.
"Wanda!" I likewise rose, and stood facing her.
"Now you know what I am," she continued. "Once more I warn you. You
still have the choice. I am not compelling you to be my slave."
"Wanda," I replied with emotion and tears filling my eyes, "don't
you know how I love you?"
Her lips quivered contemptuously.
"You are mistaken, you make yourself out worse than you are; you are
good and noble by nature--"
"What do you know about my nature," she interrupted vehemently, "you
will get to know me as I am."
"Decide, will you submit, unconditionally?"
"And if I say no."
She stepped close up to me, cold and contemptuous. As she stood
before me now, the arms folded across her breast, with an evil smile
about her lips, she was in fact the despotic woman of my dreams. Her
expression seemed hard, and nothing lay in her eyes that promised
kindness or mercy.
"Well--" she said at last.
"You are angry," I cried, "you will punish me."
"Oh no!" she replied, "I shall let you go. You are free. I am not
"Wanda--I, who love you so--"
"Yes, you, my dear sir, you who adore me," she exclaimed
contemptuously, "but who are a coward, a liar, and a breaker of
promises. Leave me instantly--"
My blood rose in my heart. I threw myself down at her feet and began
"Tears, too!" She began to laugh. Oh, this laughter was frightful.
"Leave me--I don't want to see you again."
"Oh my God!" I cried, beside myself. "I will do whatever you
command, be your slave, a mere object with which you can do what you
will--only don't send me away--I can't bear it--I cannot live without
you." I embraced her knees, and covered her hand with kisses.
"Yes, you must be a slave, and feel the lash, for you are not a
man," she said calmly. She said this to me with perfect composure,
not angrily, not even excitedly, and it was what hurt most. "Now I
know you, your dog-like nature, that adores where it is kicked, and
the more, the more it is maltreated. Now I know you, and now you
shall come to know me."
She walked up and down with long strides, while I remained crushed
on my knees; my head was hanging supine, tears flowed from my eyes.
"Come here," Wanda commanded harshly, sitting down on the ottoman.
I obeyed her command, and sat down beside her. She looked at me
sombrely, and then a light suddenly seemed to illuminate the interior
of her eye. Smiling, she drew me toward her breast, and began to kiss
the tears out of my eyes.
* * * * *
The odd part of my situation is that I am like the bear in Lily's
park. I can escape and don't want to; I am ready to endure everything
as soon as she threatens to set me free.
* * * * *
If only she would use the whip again. There is something uncanny in
the kindness with which she treats me. I seem like a little captive
mouse with which a beautiful cat prettily plays. She is ready at any
moment to tear it to pieces, and my heart of a mouse threatens to
What are her intentions? What does she purpose to do with me?
* * * * *
It seems she has completely forgotten the contract, my slavehood. Or
was it actually only stubbornness? And she gave up her whole plan as
soon as I no longer opposed her and submitted to her imperial whim?
How kind she is to me, how tender, how loving! We are spending
marvellously happy days.
To-day she had me read to her the scene between Faust and
Mephistopheles, in which the latter appears as a wandering scholar.
Her glance hung on me with strange pleasure.
"I don't understand," she said when I had finished, "how a man who
can read such great and beautiful thoughts with such expression, and
interpret them so clearly, concisely, and intelligently, can at the
same time be such a visionary and supersensual ninny as you are."
"Were you pleased," said I, and kissed her forehead.
She gently stroked my brow. "I love you, Severin," she whispered. "I
don't believe I could ever love any one more than you. Let us be
sensible, what do you say?"
Instead of replying I folded her in my arms; a deep inward, yet
vaguely sad happiness filled my breast, my eyes grew moist, and a
tear fell upon her hand.
"How can you cry!" she exclaimed, "you are a child!"
* * * * *
On a pleasure drive we met the Russian prince in his carriage. He
seemed to be unpleasantly surprised to see me by Wanda's side, and
looked as if he wanted to pierce her through and through with his
electric gray eyes. She, however, did not seem to notice him. I felt
at that moment like kneeling down before her and kissing her feet.
She let her glance glide over him indifferently as though he were an
inanimate object, a tree, for instance, and turned to me with her
* * * * *
When I said good-night to her to-day she seemed suddenly
unaccountably distracted and moody. What was occupying her?
"I am sorry you are going," she said when I was already standing on
"It is entirely in your hands to shorten the hard period of my
trial, to cease tormenting me--" I pleaded.
"Do you imagine that this compulsion isn't a torment for me, too,"
"Then end it," I exclaimed, embracing her, "be my wife."
"_Never, Severin_," she said gently, but with great firmness.
"What do you mean?"
I was frightened in my innermost soul.
"_You are not the man for me._"
I looked at her, and slowly withdrew my arm which was still about
her waist; then I left the room, and she--she did not call me back.
* * * * *
A sleepless night; I made countless decisions, only to toss them
aside again. In the morning I wrote her a letter in which I declared
our relationship dissolved. My hand trembled when I put on the seal,
and I burned my fingers.
As I went upstairs to hand it to the maid, my knees threatened to
The door opened, and Wanda thrust forth her head full of curling-
"I haven't had my hair dressed yet," she said, smiling. "What have
"Ah, you want to break with me," she exclaimed, mockingly.
"Didn't you tell me yesterday that I wasn't the man for you?"
_"I repeat it now!"_
"Very well, then." My whole body was trembling, my voice failed me,
and I handed her the letter.
"Keep it," she said, measuring me coldly. "You forget that is no
longer a question as to whether you satisfy me as a man; as a _slave_
you will doubtless do well enough."
"Madame!" I exclaimed, aghast.
"That is what you will call me in the future," replied Wanda,
throwing back her head with a movement of unutterable contempt. "Put
your affairs in order within the next twenty-four hours. The day
after to-morrow I shall start for Italy, and you will accompany me
as my servant."
"I forbid any sort of familiarity," she said, cutting my words short,
"likewise you are not to come in unless I call or ring for you, and
you are not to speak to me until you are spoken to. From now on your
name is no longer Severin, but _Gregor_."
I trembled with rage, and yet, unfortunately, I cannot deny it, I
also felt a strange pleasure and stimulation.
"But, madame, you know my circumstances," I began in my confusion.
"I am dependent on my father, and I doubt whether he will give me the
large sum of money needed for this journey--"
"That means you have no money, Gregor," said Wanda, delightedly, "so
much the better, you are then entirely dependent on me, and in fact
"You don't consider," I tried to object, "that as man of honor it is
impossible for me--"
"I have indeed considered it," she replied almost with a tone of
command. "As a man of honor you must keep your oath and redeem your
promise to follow me as slave whithersoever I demand and to obey
whatever I command. Now leave me, Gregor!"
I turned toward the door.
"Not yet--you may first kiss my hand." She held it out to me with a
certain proud indifference, and I the dilettante, the donkey, the
miserable slave pressed it with intense tenderness against my lips
which were dry and hot with excitement.
There was another gracious nod of the head.
Then I was dismissed.
* * * * *
Though it was late in the evening my light was still lit, and a fire
was burning in the large green stove. There were still many things
among my letters and documents to be put in order. Autumn, as is
usually the case with us, had fallen with all its power.
Suddenly she knocked at my window with the handle of her whip.
I opened and saw her standing outside in her ermine-lined jacket and
in a high round Cossack cap of ermine of the kind which the great
"Are you ready, Gregor?" she asked darkly.
"Not yet, mistress," I replied.
"I like that word," she said then, "you are always to call me
mistress, do you understand? We leave here to-morrow morning at nine
o'clock. As far as the district capital you will be my companion and
friend, but from the moment that we enter the railway-coach you are
my slave, my servant. Now close the window, and open the door."
After I had done as she had demanded, and after she had entered, she
asked, contracting her brows ironically, "well, how do you like me."
"Who gave you permission?" She gave me a blow with the whip.
"You are very beautiful, mistress."
Wanda smiled and sat down in the arm-chair. "Kneel down--here beside
"Kiss my hand."
I seized her small cold hand and kissed it.
"And the mouth--"
In a surge of passion I threw my arms around the beautiful cruel
woman, and covered her face, arms, and breast with glowing kisses.
She returned them with equal fervor--the eyelids closed as in a
dream. It was after midnight when she left.
* * * * *
At nine o'clock sharp in the morning everything was ready for
departure, as she had ordered. We left the little Carpathian health-
resort in a comfortable light carriage. The most interesting drama
of my life had reached a point of development whose denouement it was
then impossible to foretell.
So far everything went well. I sat beside Wanda, and she chatted
very graciously and intelligently with me, as with a good friend,
concerning Italy, Pisemski's new novel, and Wagner's music. She wore
a sort of Amazonesque travelling-dress of black cloth with a short
jacket of the same material, set with dark fur. It fitted closely and
showed her figure to best advantage. Over it she wore dark furs. Her
hair wound into an antique knot, lay beneath a small dark fur-hat
from which a black veil hung. Wanda was in very good humor; she fed
me candies, played with my hair, loosened my neck cloth and made a
pretty cockade of it; she covered my knees with her furs and
stealthily pressed the fingers of my hand. When our Jewish driver
persistently went on nodding to himself, she even gave me a kiss, and
her cold lips had the fresh frosty fragrance of a young autumnal
rose, which blossoms alone amid bare stalks and yellow leaves and
upon whose calyx the first frost has hung tiny diamonds of ice.
* * * * *
We are at the district capital. We get out at the railway station.
Wanda throws off her furs and places them over my arm, and goes
to secure the tickets.
When she returns she has completely changed.
"Here is your ticket, Gregor," she says in a tone which supercilious
ladies use to their servants.
"A third-class ticket," I reply with comic horror.
"Of course," she continues, "but now be careful. You won't get on
until I am settled in my compartment and don't need you any longer.
At each station you will hurry to my car and ask for my orders. Don't
forget. And now give me my furs."
After I had helped her into them, humbly like a slave, she went to
find an empty first-class coupe. I followed. Supporting herself on
my shoulder, she got on and I wrapped her feet in bear-skins and placed
them on the warming bottle.
Then she nodded to me, and dismissed me. I slowly ascended a third-
class carriage, which was filled with abominable tobacco-smoke that
seemed like the fogs of Acheron at the entrance to Hades. I now had
the leisure to muse about the riddle of human existence, and about
its greatest riddle of all--_woman_.
* * * * *
Whenever the train stops, I jump off, run to her carriage, and with
drawn cap await her orders. She wants coffee and then a glass of
water, at another time a bowl of warm water to wash her hands, and
thus it goes on. She lets several men who have entered her
compartment pay court to her. I am dying of jealousy and have to leap
about like an antelope so as to secure what she wants quickly and
not miss the train.
In this way the night passes. I haven't had time to eat a mouthful
and I can't sleep, I have to breathe the same oniony air with Polish
peasants, Jewish peddlers, and common soldiers.
When I mount the steps of her coupe, she is lying stretched out
on cushions in her comfortable furs, covered up with the skins of
animals. She is like an oriental despot, and the men sit like Indian
deities, straight upright against the walls and scarcely dare to
* * * * *
She stops over in Vienna for a day to go shopping, and particularly
to buy series of luxurious gowns. She continues to treat me as her
servant. I follow her at the respectful distance of ten paces. She
hands me her packages without so much as even deigning a kind look,
and laden down like a donkey I pant along behind.
Before leaving she takes all my clothes and gives them to the hotel
waiters. I am ordered to put on her livery. It is a Cracovian costume
in her colors, light-blue with red facings, and red quadrangular cap,
ornamented with peacock-feathers. The costume is rather becoming to
The silver buttons bear her coat of arms. I have the feeling of
having been sold or of having bonded myself to the devil. My fair
demon leads me from Vienna to Florence. Instead of linen-garbed
Mazovians and greasy-haired Jews, my companions now are curly-
haired Contadini, a magnificent sergeant of the first Italian
Grenadiers, and a poor German painter. The tobacco smoke no longer
smells of onions, but of salami and cheese.
Night has fallen again. I lie on my wooden bed as on a rack; my arms
and legs seem broken. But there nevertheless is an element of poetry
in the affair. The stars sparkle round about, the Italian sergeant
has a face like Apollo Belvedere, and the German painter sings a
lovely German song.
"Now that all the shadows gather
And endless stars grow light,
Deep yearning on me falls
And softly fills the night."
"Through the sea of dreams
Sailing without cease,
Sailing goes my soul
In thine to find release."
And I am thinking of the beautiful woman who is sleeping in regal
comfort among her soft furs.
* * * * *
Florence! Crowds, cries, importunate porters and cab-drivers. Wanda
chooses a carriage, and dismisses the porters.
"What have I a servant for," she says, "Gregor--here is the ticket--
get the luggage."
She wraps herself in her furs and sits quietly in the carriage while I
drag the heavy trunks hither, one after another. I break down for a
moment under the last one; a good-natured _carabiniere_ with an
intelligent face comes to my assistance. She laughs.
"It must be heavy," said she, "all my furs are in it."
I get up on the driver's seat, wiping drops of perspiration from my
brow. She gives the name of the hotel, and the driver urges on his
horse. In a few minutes we halt at the brilliantly illuminated
"Have you any rooms?" she asks the portier.
"Two for me, one for my servant, all with stoves."
"Two first-class rooms for you, madame, both with stoves," replied
the waiter who had hastily come up, "and one without heat for your
She looked at them, and then abruptly said: "they are satisfactory,
have fires built at once; my servant can sleep in the unheated room."
I merely looked at her.
"Bring up the trunks, Gregor," she commands, paying no attention to
my looks. "In the meantime I'll be dressing, and then will go down
to the dining-room, and you can eat something for supper."
As she goes into the adjoining room, I drag the trunks upstairs and
help the waiter build a fire in her bed-room. He tries to question
me in bad French about my employer. With a brief glance I see the
blazing fire, the fragrant white poster-bed, and the rugs which cover
the floor. Tired and hungry I then descend the stairs, and ask for
something to eat. A good-natured waiter, who used to be in the
Austrian army and takes all sorts of pains to entertain me in German,
shows me the dining-room and waits on me. I have just had the first
fresh drink in thirty-six hours and the first bite of warm food on
my fork, when she enters.
"What do you mean by taking me into a dining-room in which my
servant is eating," she snaps at the waiter, flaring with anger. She
turns around and leaves.
Meanwhile I thank heaven that I am permitted to go on eating. Later
I climb the four flights upstairs to my room. My small trunk is
already there, and a miserable little oil-lamp is burning. It is a
narrow room without fire-place, without a window, but with a small
air-hole. If it weren't so beastly cold, it would remind me of one
of the Venetian _piombi_. [Footnote: These were notorious prisons
under the leaden roof of the Palace of the Doges.] Involuntarily I
have to laugh out aloud, so that it re-echoes, and I am startled by
my own laughter.
Suddenly the door is pulled open and the waiter with a theatrical
Italian gesture calls "You are to come down to madame, at once." I
pick up my cap, stumble down the first few steps, but finally arrive
in front of her door on the first floor and knock.
I enter, shut the door, and stand attention.
Wanda has made herself comfortable. She is sitting in a neglige of
white muslin and laces on a small red divan with her feet on a
footstool that matches. She has thrown her fur-cloak about her. It
is the identical cloak in which she appeared to me for the first time,
as goddess of love.
The yellow lights of the candelabra which stand on projections,
their reflections in the large mirrors, and the red flames from the
open fireplace play beautifully on the green velvet, the dark-brown
sable of the cloak, the smooth white skin, and the red, flaming hair
of the beautiful woman. Her clear, but cold face is turned toward me,
and her cold green eyes rest upon me.
"I am satisfied with you, Gregor," she began.
"Still closer," she looked down, and stroked the sable with her
hand. "Venus in Furs receives her slave. I can see that you are more
than an ordinary dreamer, you don't remain far in arrears of your
dreams; you are the sort of man who is ready to carry his dreams into
effect, no matter how mad they are. I confess, I like this; it
impresses me. There is strength in this, and strength is the only
thing one respects. I actually believe that under unusual
circumstances, in a period of great deeds, what seems to be your
weakness would reveal itself as extraordinary power. Under the early
emperors you would have been a martyr, at the time of the Reformation
an anabaptist, during the French Revolution one of those inspired
Girondists who mounted the guillotine with the marseillaise on their
lips. But you are my slave, my--"
She suddenly leaped up; the furs slipped down, and she threw her
arms with soft pressure about my neck.
"My beloved slave, Severin, oh, how I love you, how I adore you, how
handsome you are in your Cracovian costume! You will be cold to-night
up in your wretched room without a fire. Shall I give you one of my
furs, dear heart, the large one there--"
She quickly picked it up, throwing it over my shoulders, and before
I knew what had happened I was completely wrapped up in it.
"How wonderfully becoming furs are to your face, they bring out your
noble lines. As soon as you cease being my slave, you must wear a
velvet coat with sable, do you understand? Otherwise I shall never
put on my fur-jacket again."
And again she began to caress me and kiss me; finally she drew me
down on the little divan.
"You seem to be pleased with yourself in furs," she said. "Quick,
quick, give them to me, or I will lose all sense of dignity."
I placed the furs about her, and Wanda slipped her right arm into
"This is the pose in Titian's picture. But now enough of joking.
Don't always look so solemn, it makes me feel sad. As far as the
world is concerned you are still merely my servant; you are not yet
my slave, for you have not yet signed the contract. You are still
free, and can leave me any moment. You have played your part
magnificently. I have been delighted, but aren't you tired of it
already, and don't you think I am abominable? Well, say something--I
"Must I confess to you, Wanda?" I began.
"Yes, you must."
"Even it you take advantage of it," I continued, "I shall love you
the more deeply, adore you the more fanatically, the worse you treat
me. What you have just done inflames my blood and intoxicates all my
senses." I held her close to me and clung for several moments to her
"Oh, you beautiful woman," I then exclaimed, looking at her. In my
enthusiasm I tore the sable from her shoulders and pressed my mouth
against her neck.
"You love me even when I am cruel," said Wanda, "now go!--you bore
me--don't you hear?"
She boxed my ears so that I saw stars and bells rang in my ears.
"Help me into my furs, slave."
I helped her, as well as I could.
"How awkward," she exclaimed, and was scarcely in it before she
struck me in the face again. I felt myself growing pale.
"Did I hurt you?" she asked, softly touching me with her hand.
"No, no," I exclaimed.
"At any rate you have no reason to complain, you want it thus; now
kiss me again."
I threw my arms about her, and her lips clung closely to mine. As
she lay against my breast in her large heavy furs, I had a curiously
oppressive sensation. It was as if a wild beast, a she-bear, were
embracing me. It seemed as if I were about to feel her claws in my
flesh. But this time the she-bear let me off easily.
With my heart filled with smiling hopes, I went up to my miserable
servant's room, and threw myself down on my hard couch.
"Life is really amazingly droll," I thought. "A short time ago the
most beautiful woman, Venus herself, rested against your breast, and
now you have an opportunity for studying the Chinese hell. Unlike us,
they don't hurl the damned into flames, but they have devils chasing
them out into fields of ice.
"Very likely the founders of their religion also slept in unheated
* * * * *
During the night I startled out of my sleep with a scream. I had
been dreaming of an icefield in which I had lost my way; I had been
looking in vain for a way out. Suddenly an eskimo drove up in a
sleigh harnessed with reindeer; he had the face of the waiter who had
shown me to the unheated room.
"What are you looking for here, my dear sir?" he exclaimed. "This is
the North Pole."
A moment later he had disappeared, and Wanda flew over the smooth
ice on tiny skates. Her white satin skirt fluttered and crackled; the
ermine of her jacket and cap, but especially her face, gleamed whiter
than the snow. She shot toward me, inclosed me in her arms, and began
to kiss me. Suddenly I felt my blood running warm down my side.
"What are you doing?" I asked horror-stricken.
She laughed, and as I looked at her now, it was no longer Wanda, but
a huge, white she-bear, who was digging her paws into my body.
I cried out in despair, and still heard her diabolical laughter when
I awoke, and looked about the room in surprise.
Early in the morning I stood at Wanda's door, and the waiter brought
the coffee. I took it from him, and served it to my beautiful
mistress. She had already dressed, and looked magnificent, all fresh
and roseate. She smiled graciously at me and called me back, when I
was about to withdraw respectfully.
"Come, Gregor, have your breakfast quickly too," she said, "then we
will go house-hunting. I don't want to stay in the hotel any longer
than I have to. It is very embarassing here. If I chat with you for
more than a minute, people will immediately say: 'The fair Russian
is having an affair with her servant, you see, the race of Catherines
isn't extinct yet.'"
Half an hour later we went out; Wanda was in her cloth-gown with the
Russian cap, and I in my Cracovian costume. We created quite a stir. I
walked about ten paces behind, looking very solemn, but expected
momentarily to have to break out into loud laughter. There was
scarcely a street in which one or the other of the attractive houses
did not bear the sign _camere ammobiliate_. Wanda always sent me
upstairs, and only when the apartment seemed to answer her
requirements did she herself ascend. By noon I was as tired as a stag-
hound after the hunt.
We entered a new house and left it again without having found a
suitable habitation. Wanda was already somewhat out of humor.
Suddenly she said to me: "Severin, the seriousness with which you
play your part is charming, and the restrictions, which we have
placed upon each other are really annoying me. I can't stand it any
longer, I do love you, I must kiss you. Let's go into one of the
"But, my lady--" I interposed.
"Gregor?" She entered the next open corridor and ascended a few
steps of the dark stair-way; then she threw her arms about me with
passionate tenderness and kissed me.
"Oh, Severin, you were very wise. You are much more dangerous as
slave than I would have imagined; you are positively irrestible, and
I am afraid I shall have to fall in love with you again."
"Don't you love me any longer then," I asked seized by a sudden
She solemnly shook her head, but kissed me again with her swelling,
We returned to the hotel. Wanda had luncheon, and ordered me also
quickly to get something to eat.
Of course, I wasn't served as quickly as she, and so it happened
that just as I was carrying the second bite of my steak to my mouth,
the waiter entered and called out with his theatrical gesture:
"Madame wants you, at once."
I took a rapid and painful leave of my food, and, tired and hungry,
hurried toward Wanda, who was already on the street.
"I wouldn't have imagined you could be so cruel," I said
reproachfully. "With all these, fatiguing duties you don't even leave
me time to eat in peace."
Wanda laughed gaily. "I thought you had finished," she said, "but
never mind. Man was born to suffer, and you in particular. The
martyrs didn't have any beefsteaks either."
I followed her resentfully, gnawing at my hunger.
"I have given up the idea of finding a place in the city," Wanda
continued. "It will be difficult to find an entire floor which is
shut off and where you can do as you please. In such a strange, mad
relationship as ours there must be no jarring note. I shall rent an
entire villa--and you will be surprised. You have my permission now
to satisfy your hunger, and look about a bit in Florence. I won't be
home till evening. If I need you then, I will have you called."
I looked at the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Logia di Lanzi, and
then I stood for a long time on the banks of the Arno. Again and
again I let my eyes rest on the magnificent ancient Florence, whose
round cupolas and towers were drawn in soft lines against the blue,
cloudless sky. I watched its splendid bridges beneath whose wide
arches the lively waves of the beautiful, yellow river ran, and the
green hills which surrounded the city, bearing slender cypresses and
extensive buildings, palaces and monasteries.
It is a different world, this one in which we are--a gay, sensuous,
smiling world. The landscape too has nothing of the seriousness and
somberness of ours. It is a long ways off to the last white villas
scattered among the pale green of the mountains, and yet there isn't
a spot that isn't bright with sunlight. The people are less serious
than we; perhaps, they think less, but they all look as though they
It is also maintained that death is easier in the South.
I have a vague feeling now that such a thing as beauty without thorn
and love of the senses without torment does exist.
Wanda has discovered a delightful little villa and rented it for the
winter. It is situated on a charming hill on the left bank of the
Arno, opposite the Cascine. It is surrounded by an attractive garden
with lovely paths, grass plots, and magnificent meadow of camelias.
It is only two stories high, quadrangular in the Italian fashion. An
open gallery runs along one side, a sort of loggia with plaster-casts
of antique statues; stone steps lead from it down into the garden.
From the gallery you enter a bath with a magnificent marble basin,
from which winding stairs lead to my mistress' bed-chamber.
Wanda occupies the second story by herself.
A room on the ground floor has been assigned to me; it is very
attractive, and even has a fireplace.
I have roamed through the garden. On a round hillock I discovered a
little temple, but I found its door locked. However, there is a chink
in the door and when I glue my eye to it, I see the goddess of love
on a white pedestal.
A slight shudder passes over me. It seems to me as if she were
smiling at me saying: "Are you there? I have been expecting you."
* * * * *
It is evening. An attractive maid brings me orders to appear before
my mistress. I ascend the wide marble stairs, pass through the
anteroom, a large salon furnished with extravagant magnificence, and
knock at the door of the bedroom. I knock very softly for the luxury
displayed everywhere intimidates me. Consequently no one hears me,
and I stand for some time in front of the door. I have a feeling as
if I were standing before the bed-room of the great Catherine, and
it seems as if at any moment she might come out in her green sleeping
furs, with the red ribbon and decoration on her bare breast, and with
her little white powdered curls.
I knocked again. Wanda impatiently pulls the door open.
"Why so late?" she asks.
"I was standing in front of the door, but you didn't hear me knock,"
I reply timidly. She closes the door, and clinging to me, she leads
me to the red damask ottoman on which she had been resting. The
entire arrangement of the room is in red damask--wall-paper,
curtains, portieres, hangings of the bed. A magnificent painting of
Samson and Delilah forms the ceiling.
Wanda receives me in an intoxicating dishabille. Her white satin
dress flows gracefully and picturesquely down her slender body,
leaving her arms and breast bare, and carelessly they nestle amid the
dark hair of the great fur of sable, lined with green velvet. Her red
hair falls down her back as far as the hips, only half held by
strings of black pearls.
"Venus in Furs," I whisper, while she draws me to her breast and
threatens to stifle me with her kisses. Then I no longer speak and
neither do I think; everything is drowned out in an ocean of
"Do you still love me?" she asks, her eye softening in passionate
"You ask!" I exclaimed.
"You still remember your oath," she continued with an alluring
smile, "now that everything is prepared, everything in readiness, I
ask you once more, is it still your serious wish to become my slave?"
"Am I not ready?" I asked in surprise.
"You have not yet signed the papers."
"Oh, I see, you want to give it up," she said, "well then, we will
let it go."
"But Wanda," I said, "you know that nothing gives me greater
happiness than to serve you, to be your slave. I would give
everything for the sake of feeling myself wholly in your power, even
"How beautiful you are," she whispered, "when you speak so
enthusiastically, so passionately. I am more in love with you than
ever and you want me to be dominant, stern, and cruel. I am afraid,
it will be impossible for me to be so."
"I am not afraid," I replied smiling, "where are the papers?'"
"So that you may know what it means to be absolutely in my power, I
have drafted a second agreement in which you declare that you have
decided to kill yourself. In that way I can even kill you, if I so
"Give them to me."
While I was unfolding the documents and reading them, Wanda got pen
and ink. She then sat down beside me with her arm about my neck, and
looked over my shoulder at the paper.
The first one read:
AGREEMENT BETWEEN MME. VON DUNAJEW AND SEVERIN VON KUSIEMSKI
"Severin von Kusiemski ceases with the present day being the affianced
of Mme. Wanda von Dunajew, and renounces all the rights appertaining
thereunto; he on the contrary binds himself on his word of honor as a
man and nobleman, that hereafter he will be her _slave_ until such
time that she herself sets him at liberty again.
"As the slave of Mme. von Dunajew he is to bear the name Gregor, and
he is unconditionally to comply with every one of her wishes, and to
obey every one of her commands; he is always to be submissive to his
mistress, and is to consider her every sign of favor as an
"Mme. von Dunajew is entitled not only to punish her slave as she
deems best, even for the slightest inadvertence or fault, but also
is herewith given the right to torture him as the mood may seize her
or merely for the sake of whiling away the time. Should she so desire,
she may kill him whenever she wishes; in short, he is her
"Should Mme. von Dunajew ever set her slave at liberty, Severin von
Kusiemski agrees to forget everything that he has experienced or
suffered as her slave, and promises _never under any circumstances and
in no wise to think of vengeance or retaliation_.
"Mme. von Dunajew on her behalf agrees as his mistress to appear as
often as possible in her furs, especially when she purposes some
cruelty toward her slave."
Appended at the bottom of the agreement was the date of the present
The second document contained only a few words.
"Having since many years become weary of existence and its
illusions, I have of my own free will put an end to my worthless
I was seized with a deep horror when I had finished. There was still
time, I could still withdraw, but the madness of passion and the
sight of the beautiful woman that lay all relaxed against my shoulder
carried me away.
"This one you will have to copy, Severin," said Wanda, indicating
the second document. "It has to be entirely in your own handwriting;
this, of course, isn't necessary in the case of the agreement."
I quickly copied the few lines in which I designated myself a
suicide, and handed them to Wanda. She read them, and put them on the
table with a smile.
"Now have you the courage to sign it?" she asked with a crafty
smile, inclining her head.
I took the pen.
"Let me sign first," said Wanda, "your hand is trembling, are you
afraid of the happiness that is to be yours?"
She took the agreement and pen. While engaging in my internal
struggle, I looked upward for a moment. It occurred to me that the
painting on the ceiling, like many of those of the Italian and Dutch
schools, was utterly unhistorical, but this very fact gave it a
strange mood which had an almost uncanny effect on me. Delilah, an
opulent woman with flaming red hair, lay extended, half-disrobed, in
a dark fur-cloak, upon a red ottoman, and bent smiling over Samson
who had been overthrown and bound by the Philistines. Her smile in
its mocking coquetry was full of a diabolical cruelty; her eyes, half-
closed, met Samson's, and his with a last look of insane passion
cling to hers, for already one of his enemies is kneeling on his
breast with the red-hot iron to blind him.
"Now--" said Wanda. "Why you are all lost in thought. What is the
matter with you, everything will remain just as it was, even after
you have signed, don't you know me yet, dear heart?"
I looked at the agreement. Her name was written there in bold
letters. I peered once more into her eyes with their potent magic,
then I took the pen and quickly signed the agreement.
"You are trembling," said Wanda calmly, "shall I help you?"
She gently took hold of my hand, and my name appeared at the bottom
of the second paper. Wanda looked once more at the two documents, and
then locked them in the desk which stood at the head of the ottoman.
"Now then, give me your passport and money."
I took out my wallet and handed it to her. She inspected it, nodded,
and put it with other things while in a sweet drunkenness I kneeled
before her leaning my head against her breast.
Suddenly she thrusts me away with her foot, leaps up, and pulls the
bell-rope. In answer to its sound three young, slender negresses
enter; they are as if carved of ebony, and are dressed from head to
foot in red satin; each one has a rope in her hand.
Suddenly I realize my position, and am about to rise. Wanda stands
proudly erect, her cold beautiful face with its sombre brows and
contemptous eyes is turned toward me. She stands before me as
mistress, commanding, gives a sign with her hand, and before I really
know what has happened to me the negresses have dragged me to the
ground, and have tied me hand and foot. As in the case of one about
to be executed my arms are bound behind my back, so that I can
"Give me the whip, Haydee," commands Wanda, with unearthly calm.
The negress hands it to her mistress, kneeling.
"And now take off my heavy furs," she continues, "they impede me."
The negress obeyed.
"The jacket there!" Wanda commanded.
Haydee quickly brought her the _kazabaika_, set with ermine, which lay
on the bed, and Wanda slipped into it with two inimitably graceful
"Now tie him to the pillar here!"
The negresses lifted me up, and twisting a heavy rope around my
body, tied me standing against one of the massive pillars which
supported the top of the wide Italian bed.
Then they suddenly disappeared, as if the earth had swallowed them.
Wanda swiftly approached me. Her white satin dress flowed behind her
in a long train, like silver, like moonlight; her hair flared like
flames against the white fur of her jacket. Now she stood in front
of me with her left hand firmly planted on her hips, in her right hand
she held the whip. She uttered an abrupt laugh.
"Now play has come to an end between us," she said with heartless
coldness. "Now we will begin in dead earnest. You fool, I laugh at you
and despise you; you who in your insane infatuation have given
yourself as a plaything to _me_, the frivolous and capricious woman.
You are no longer the man I love, but _my slave_, at my mercy even
unto life and death.
"You shall know me!
"First of all you shall have a taste of the whip in all seriousness,
without having done anything to deserve it, so that you may
understand what to expect, if you are awkward, disobedient, or
With a wild grace she rolled back her fur-lined sleeve, and struck
me across the back.
I winced, for the whip cut like a knife into my flesh.
"Well, how do you like that?" she exclaimed.
I was silent.
"Just wait, you will yet whine like a dog beneath my whip," she
threatened, and simultaneously began to strike me again.
The blows fell quickly, in rapid succession, with terrific force
upon my back, arms, and neck; I had to grit my teeth not to scream
aloud. Now she struck me in the face, warm blood ran down, but she
laughed, and continued her blows.
"It is only now I understand you," she exclaimed. "It really is a
joy to have some one so completely in one's power, and a man at that,
who loves you--you do love me?--No--Oh! I'll tear you to shreds yet,
and with each blow my pleasure will grow. Now, twist like a worm,
scream, whine! You will find no mercy in me!"
Finally she seemed tired.
She tossed the whip aside, stretched out on the ottoman, and rang.
The negresses entered.
As they loosened the rope, I fell to the floor like a lump of wood.
The black women grinned, showing their white teeth.
"Untie the rope around his feet."
They did it, but I was unable to rise.
"Come over here, Gregor."
I approached the beautiful woman. Never did she seem more seductive
to me than to-day in spite of all her cruelty and contempt.
"One step further," Wanda commanded. "Now kneel down, and kiss my
She extended her foot beyond the hem of white satin, and I, the
supersensual fool, pressed my lips upon it.
"Now, you won't lay eyes on me for an entire month, Gregor," she
said seriously. "I want to become a stranger to you, so you will more
easily adjust yourself to our new relationship. In the meantime you
will work in the garden, and await my orders. Now, off with you,
* * * * *
A month has passed with monotonous regularity, heavy work, and a
melancholy hunger, hunger for her, who is inflicting all these
torments on me.
I am under the gardener's orders; I help him lop the trees and prune
the hedges, transplant flowers, turn over the flower beds, sweep the
gravel paths; I share his coarse food and his hard cot; I rise and
go to bed with the chickens. Now and then I hear that our mistress
is amusing herself, surrounded by admirers. Once I heard her gay
laughter even down here in the garden.
I seem awfully stupid to myself. Was it the result of my present
life, or was I so before? The month is drawing to a close--the day
after to-morrow. What will she do with me now, or has she forgotten
me, and left me to trim hedges and bind bouquets till my dying day?
A written order.
"The slave Gregor is herewith ordered to my personal service.
With a beating heart I draw aside the damask curtain on the
following morning, and enter the bed-room of my divinity. It is still
filled with a pleasant half darkness.
"Is it you, Gregor?" she asks, while I kneel before the fire-place,
building a fire. I tremble at the sound of the beloved voice. I
cannot see her herself; she is invisible behind the curtains of the
"Yes, my mistress," I reply.
"How late is it?"
"Past nine o'clock."
I hasten to get it, and then kneel down with the tray beside her bed.
"Here is breakfast, my mistress."
Wanda draws back the curtains, and curiously enough at the first
glance when I see her among the pillows with loosened flowing hair,
she seems an absolute stranger, a beautiful woman, but the beloved
soft lines are gone. This face is hard and has an expression of
weariness and satiety.
Or is it simply that formerly my eye did not see this?
She fixes her green eyes upon me, more with curiosity than with
menace, perhaps even somewhat pityingly, and lazily pulls the dark
sleeping fur on which she lies over the bared shoulder.
At this moment she is very charming, very maddening, and I feel my
blood rising to my head and heart. The tray in my hands begins to
sway. She notices it and reached out for the whip which is lying on
"You are awkward, slave," she says furrowing her brow.
I lower my looks to the ground, and hold the tray as steadily as
possible. She eats her breakfast, yawns, and stretches her opulent
limbs in the magnificent furs.
She has rung. I enter.
"Take this letter to Prince Corsini."
I hurry into the city, and hand the letter to the Prince. He is a
handsome young man with glowing black eyes. Consumed with jealousy,
I take his answer to her.
"What is the matter with you?" she asks with lurking spitefulness.
"You are very pale."
"Nothing, mistress, I merely walked rather fast."
At luncheon the prince is at her side, and I am condemned to serve
both her and him. They joke, and I am, as if non-existent, for both.
For a brief moment I see black; I was just pouring some Bordeaux into
his glass, and spilled it over the table-cloth and her gown.
"How awkward," Wanda exclaimed and slapped my face. The prince
laughed, and she also, but I felt the blood rising to my face.
After luncheon she drove in the Cascine. She has a little carriage
with a handsome, brown English horse, and holds the reins herself.
I sit behind and notice how coquettishly she acts, and nods with a
smile when one of the distinguished gentlemen bows to her.
As I help her out of the carriage, she leans lightly on my arm; the
contact runs through me like an electric shock. She _is_ a wonderful
woman, and I love her more than ever.
* * * * *
For dinner at six she has invited a small group of men and women. I
serve, but this time I do not spill any wine over the table-cloth.
A slap in the face is more effective than ten lectures. It makes you
understand very quickly, especially when the instruction is by the
way of a small woman's hand.
* * * * *
After dinner she drives to the Pergola Theater. As she descends the
stairs in her black velvet dress with its large collar of ermine and
with a diadem of white roses on her hair, she is literally stunning.
I open the carriage-door, and help her in. In front of the theater
I leap from the driver's seat, and in alighting she leaned on my arm,
which trembled under the sweet burden. I open the door of her box,
and then wait in the vestibule. The performance lasts four hours; she
receives visits from her cavaliers, the while I grit my teeth with
It is way beyond midnight when my mistress's bell sounds for the
"Fire!" she orders abruptly, and when the fire-place crackles, "Tea!"
When I return with the samovar, she has already undressed, and with
the aid of the negress slipped into a white negligee.
Haydee thereupon leaves.
"Hand me the sleeping-furs," says Wanda, sleepily stretching her
lovely limbs. I take them from the arm-chair, and hold them while she
slowly and lazily slides into the sleeves. She then throws herself
down on the cushions of the ottoman.
"Take off my shoes, and put on my velvet slippers."
I kneel down and tug at the little shoe which resists my efforts.
"Hurry, hurry!" Wanda exclaims, "you are hurting me! just you wait--I
will teach you." She strikes me with the whip, but now the shoe is
"Now get out!" Still a kick--and then I can go to bed.
* * * * *
To-night I accompanied her to a soiree. In the entrance-hall she
ordered me to help her out of her furs; then with a proud smile,
confident of victory, she entered the brilliantly illuminated room.
I again waited with gloomy and monotonous thoughts, watching hour after
hour run by. From time to time the sounds of music reached me, when
the door remained open for a moment. Several servants tried to start
a conversation with me, but soon desisted, since I knew only a few
words of Italian.
Finally I fell asleep, and dreamed that I murdered Wanda in a
violent attack of jealousy. I was condemned to death, and saw myself
strapped on the board; the knife fell, I felt it on my neck, but I
was still alive--
Then the executioner slapped my face.
No, it wasn't the executioner; it was Wanda who stood wrathfully
before me demanding her furs. I am at her side in a moment, and help
her on with it.
There is a deep joy in wrapping a beautiful woman into her furs, and
in seeing and feeling how her neck and magnificent limbs nestle in
the precious soft furs, and to lift the flowing hair over the collar.
When she throws it off a soft warmth and a faint fragrance of her
body still clings to the ends of the hairs of sable. It is enough to
drive one mad.
* * * * *
Finally a day came when there were neither guests, nor theater, nor
other company. I breathed a sigh of relief. Wanda sat in the gallery,
reading, and apparently had no orders for me. At dusk when the
silvery evening mists fell she withdrew. I served her at dinner, she
ate by herself, but had not a look, not a syllable for me, not even
a slap in the face.
I actually desire a slap from her hand. Tears fill my eyes, and I
feel that she has humiliated me so deeply, that she doesn't even find
it worth while to torture or maltreat me any further.
Before she goes to bed, her bell calls me.
"You will sleep here to-night, I had horrible dreams last night, and
am afraid of being alone. Take one of the cushions from the ottoman,
and lie down on the bearskin at my feet."
Then Wanda put out the lights. The only illumination in the room was
from a small lamp suspended from the ceiling. She herself got into
bed. "Don't stir, so as not to wake me."
I did as she had commanded, but could not fall asleep for a long
time. I saw the beautiful woman, beautiful as a goddess, lying on her
back on the dark sleeping-furs; her arms beneath her neck, with a
flood of red hair over them. I heard her magnificent breast rise in
deep regular breathing, and whenever she moved ever so slightly. I
woke up and listened to see whether she needed me.
But she did not require me.
No task was required of me; I meant no more to her than a night-
lamp, or a revolver which one places under one's pillow.
* * * * *
Am I mad or is she? Does all this arise out of an inventive, wanton
woman's brain with the intention of surpassing my supersensual
fantasies, or is this woman really one of those Neronian characters
who take a diabolical pleasure in treading underfoot, like a worm,
human beings, who have thoughts and feelings and a will like theirs?
What have I experienced?
When I knelt with the coffee-tray beside her bed, Wanda suddenly
placed her hand on my shoulder and her eyes plunged deep into mine.
"What beautiful eyes you have," she said softly, "and especially now
since you suffer. Are you very unhappy?"
I bowed my head, and kept silent.
"Severin, do you still love me," she suddenly exclaimed
passionately, "can you still love me?"
She drew me close with such vehemence that the coffee-tray upset,
the can and cups fell to the floor, and the coffee ran over the
"Wanda--my Wanda," I cried out and held her passionately against me;
I covered her mouth, face, and breast with kisses.
"It is my unhappiness that I love you more and more madly the worse
you treat me, the more frequently you betray me. Oh, I shall die of
pain and love and jealousy."
"But I haven't betrayed you, as yet, Severin," replied Wanda smiling.
"Not? Wanda! Don't jest so mercilessly with me," I cried. "Haven't
I myself taken the letter to the Prince--"
"Of course, it was an invitation for luncheon."
"You have, since we have been in Florence--"
"I have been absolutely faithful to you" replied Wanda, "I swear it
by all that is holy to me. All that I have done was merely to fulfill
your dream and it was done for your sake.
"However, I shall take a lover, otherwise things will be only half
accomplished, and in the end you will yet reproach me with not having
treated you cruelly enough, my dear beautiful slave! But to-day you
shall be Severin again, the only one I love. I haven't given away
your clothes. They are here in the chest. Go and dress as you used
to in the little Carpathian health-resort when our love was so intimate.
Forget everything that has happened since; oh, you will forget it
easily in my arms; I shall kiss away all your sorrows."
She began to treat me tenderly like a child, to kiss me and caress
me. Finally she said with a gracious smile, "Go now and dress, I too
will dress. Shall I put on my fur-jacket? Oh yes, I know, now run
When I returned she was standing in the center of the room in her
white satin dress, and the red _kazabaika_ edged with ermine; her hair
was white with powder and over her forehead she wore a small diamond
diadem. For a moment she reminded me in an uncanny way of Catherine
the Second, but she did not give me much time for reminiscences. She
drew me down on the ottoman beside her and we enjoyed two blissful
hours. She was no longer the stern capricious mistress, she was
entirely a fine lady, a tender sweetheart. She showed me photographs
and books which had just appeared, and talked about them with so much
intelligence, clarity, and good taste, that I more than once carried
her hand to my lips, enraptured. She then had me recite several of
Lermontov's poems, and when I was all afire with enthusiasm, she
placed her small hand gently on mine. Her expression was soft, and her
eyes were filled with tender pleasure.
"Are you happy?"
She then leaned back on the cushions, and slowly opened her
But I quickly covered the half-bared breast again with the ermine.
"You are driving me mad." I stammered.
I was already lying in her arms, and like a serpent she was kissing
me with her tongue, when again she whispered, "Are you happy?"
"Infinitely!" I exclaimed.
She laughed aloud. It was an evil, shrill laugh which made cold
shivers run down by back.
"You used to dream of being the slave, the plaything of a beautiful
woman, and now you imagine you are a free human being, a man, my
lover-you fool! A sign from me, and you are a slave again. Down on
I sank down from the ottoman to her feet, but my eye still clung
doubtingly on hers.
"You can't believe it," she said, looking at me with her arms folded
across her breast. "I am bored, and you will just do to while away
a couple of hours of time. Don't look at me that way--"
She kicked me with her foot.
"You are just what I want, a human being, a thing, an animal--"
She rang. The three negresses entered.
"Tie his hands behind his back."
I remained kneeling and unresistingly let them do this. They led me
into the garden, down to the little vineyard, which forms the
southern boundary. Corn had been planted between the espaliers, and
here and there a few dead stalks still stood. To one side was a
The negresses tied me to a post, and amused themselves sticking me
with their golden hair-needles. But this did not last long, before
Wanda appeared with her ermine cap on her head, and with her hands
in the pockets of her jacket. She had me untied, and then my hands
were fastened together on my back. She finally had a yoke put around
my neck, and harnessed me to the plough.
Then her black demons drove me out into the field. One of them held
the plough, the other one led me by a line, the third applied the
whip, and Venus in Furs stood to one side and looked on.
* * * * *
When I was serving dinner on the following day Wanda said: "Bring
another cover, I want you to dine with me to-day," and when I was
about to sit down opposite her, she added, "No, over here, close by
She is in the best of humors, gives me soup with her spoon, feeds me
with her fork, and places her head on the table like a playful kitten
and flirts with me. I have the misfortune of looking at Haydee, who
serves in my place, perhaps a little longer than is necessary. It is
only now that I noticed her noble, almost European cast of
countenance and her magnificent statuesque bust, which is as if hewn
out of black marble. The black devil observes that she pleases me,
and, grinning, shows her teeth. She has hardly left the room, before
Wanda leaps up in a rage.
"What, you dare to look at another woman besides me! Perhaps you
like her even better than you do me, she is even more demonic!"
I am frightened; I have never seen her like this before; she is
suddenly pale even to the lips and her whole body trembles. Venus in
Furs is jealous of her slave. She snatches the whip from its hook and
strikes me in the face; then she calls her black servants, who bind
me, and carry me down into the cellar, where they throw me into a
dark, dank, subterranean compartment, a veritable prison-cell.
Then the lock of the door clicks, the bolts are drawn, a key sings
in the lock. I am a prisoner, buried.
I have been lying here for I don't know how long, bound like a calf
about to be hauled to the slaughter, on a bundle of damp straw,
without any light, without food, without drink, without sleep. It
would be like her to let me starve to death, if I don't freeze to
death before then. I am shaking with cold. Or is it fever? I believe
I am beginning to hate this woman.
* * * * *
A red streak, like blood, floods across the floor; it is a light
falling through the door which is now thrust open.
Wanda appears on the threshold, wrapped in her sables, holding a
"Are you still alive?" she asks.
"Are you coming to kill me?" I reply with a low, hoarse voice.
With two rapid strides Wanda reaches my side, she kneels down beside
me, and places my head in her lap. "Are you ill? Your eyes glow so,
do you love me? I want you to love me."
She draws forth a short dagger. I start with fright when its blade
gleams in front of my eyes. I actually believe that she is about to
kill me. She laughs, and cuts the ropes that bind me.
* * * * *
Every evening after dinner she now has me called. I have to read to
her, and she discusses with me all sorts of interesting problems and
subjects. She seems entirely transformed; it is as if she were
ashamed of the savagery which she betrayed to me and of the cruelty
with which she treated me. A touching gentleness transfigures her
entire being, and when at the good-night she gives me her hand, a
superhuman power of goodness and love lies in her eyes, of the kind
which calls forth tears in us and causes us to forget all the
miseries of existence and all the terrors of death.
* * * * *
I am reading _Manon l'Escault_ to her. She feels the association, she
doesn't say a word, but she smiles from time to time, and finally she
shuts up the little book.
"Don't you want to go on reading?"
"Not to-day. We will ourselves act _Manon l'Escault_ to-day. I have a
rendezvous in the Cascine, and you, my dear Chevalier, will accompany
me; I know, you will do it, won't you?"
"You command it."
"I do not command it, I beg it of you," she says with irresistible
charm. She then rises, puts her hands on my shoulders, and looks at
"Your eyes!" she exclaims. "I love you, Severin, you have no idea
how I love you!"
"Yes, I have!" I replied bitterly, "so much so that you have
arranged for a rendezvous with some one else."
"I do this only to allure you the more," she replied vivaciously. "I
must have admirers, so as not to lose you. I don't ever want to lose
you, never, do you hear, for I love only you, you alone."
She clung passionately to my lips.
"Oh, if I only could, as I would, give you all of my soul in a kiss--
thus--but now come."
She slipped into a simple black velvet coat, and put a dark _bashlyk_
[Footnote: A kind of Russian cap.] on her head. Then she rapidly went
through the gallery, and entered the carriage.
"Gregor will drive," she called out to the coachman who withdrew in
I ascended the driver's seat, and angrily whipped up the horses.
In the Cascine where the main roadway turns into a leafy path, Wanda
got out. It was night, only occasional stars shone through the gray
clouds that fled across the sky. By the bank of the Arno stood a man
in a dark cloak, with a brigand's hat, and looked at the yellow
waves. Wanda rapidly walked through the shrubbery, and tapped him on
the shoulder. I saw him turn and seize her hand, and then they
disappeared behind the green wall.
An hour full of torments. Finally there was a rustling in the bushes
to one side, and they returned.
The man accompanied her to the carriage. The light of the lamp fell
full and glaringly upon an infinitely young, soft and dreamy face
which I had never before seen, and played in his long, blond curls.
She held out her hand which he kissed with deep respect, then she
signaled to me, and immediately the carriage flew along the leafy
wall which follows the river like a long green screen.
* * * * *
The bell at the garden-gate rings. It is a familiar face. The man
from the Cascine.
"Whom shall I announce?" I ask him in French. He timidly shakes his
"Do you, perhaps, understand some German?" he asks shyly.
"Yes. Your name, please."
"Oh! I haven't any yet," he replies, embarrassed--"Tell your
mistress the German painter from the Cascine is here and would like--
but there she is herself."
Wanda had stepped out on the balcony, and nodded toward the stranger.
"Gregor, show the gentleman in!" she called to me.
I showed the painter the stairs.
"Thanks, I'll find her now, thanks, thanks very much." He ran up the
steps. I remained standing below, and looked with deep pity on the
Venus in Furs has caught his soul in the red snares of hair. He will
paint her, and go mad.
* * * * *
It is a sunny winter's day. Something that looks like gold trembles
on the leaves of the clusters of trees down below in the green level
of the meadow. The camelias at the foot of the gallery are glorious
in their abundant buds. Wanda is sitting in the loggia; she is
drawing. The German painter stands opposite her with his hands folded
as in adoration, and looks at her. No, he rather looks at her face,
and is entirely absorbed in it, enraptured.
But she does not see him, neither does she see me, who with the
spade in my hand am turning over the flower-bed, solely that I may
see her and feel her nearness, which produces an effect on me like
poetry, like music.
* * * * *
The painter has gone. It is a hazardous thing to do, but I risk it.
I go up to the gallery, quite close, and ask Wanda "Do you love the
She looks at me without getting angry, shakes her head, and finally
"I feel sorry for him," she replies, "but I do not love him. I love no
one. _I used to love you, as ardently, as passionately, as deeply as
it was possible for me to love,_ but now I don't love even you any
more; my heart is a void, dead, and this makes me sad."
"Wanda!" I exclaimed, deeply moved.
"Soon, you too will no longer love me," she continued, "tell me when
you have reached that point, and I will give back to you your
"Then I shall remain your slave, all my life long, for I adore you
and shall always adore you," I cried, seized by that fanaticism of
love which has repeatedly been so fatal to me.
Wanda looked at me with a curious pleasure. "Consider well what you
do," she said. "I have loved you infinitely and have been despotic
towards you so that I might fulfil your dream. Something of my old
feeling, a sort of real sympathy for you, still trembles in my
breast. When that too has gone who knows whether then I shall give
you your liberty; whether I shall not then become really cruel,
merciless, even brutal toward; whether I shall not take a diabolical
pleasure in tormenting and putting on the rack the man who worships
me idolatrously, the while I remain indifferent or love someone else;
perhaps, I shall enjoy seeing him die of his love for me. Consider
"I have long since considered all that," I replied as in a glow of
fever. "I cannot exist, cannot live without you; I shall die if you
set me at liberty; let me remain your slave, kill me, but do not
drive me away."
"Very well then, be my slave," she replied, "but don't forget that
I no longer love you, and your love doesn't mean any more to me than
a dog's, and dogs are kicked."
* * * * *
To-day I visited the Venus of Medici.
It was still early, and the little octagonal room in the Tribuna was
filled with half-lights like a sanctuary; I stood with folded hands
in deep adoration before the silent image of the divinity.
But I did not stand for long.
Not a human soul was in the gallery, not even an Englishman, and I
fell down on my knees. I looked up at the lovely slender body, the
budding breasts, the virginal and yet voluptuous face, the fragrant
curls which seemed to conceal tiny horns on each side of the forehead.
* * * * *
My mistress's bell.
It is noonday. She, however, is still abed with her arms intertwined
behind her neck.
"I want to bathe," she says, "and you will attend me. Lock the door!"
"Now go downstairs and make sure the door below is also locked."
I descended the winding stairs that lead from her bedroom to the
bath; my feet gave way beneath me, and I had to support myself
against the iron banister. After having ascertained that the door
leading to the Loggia and the garden was locked, I returned. Wanda
was now sitting on the bed with loosened hair, wrapped in her green
velvet furs. When she made a rapid movement, I noticed that the furs
were her only covering. It made me start terribly, I don't know why?
I was like one condemned to death, who knows he is on the way to the
scaffold, and yet begins to tremble when he sees it.
"Come, Gregor, take me on your arms."
"You mean, mistress?"
"You are to carry me, don't you understand?"
I lifted her up, so that she rested in my arms, while she twined
hers around my neck. Slowly, step by step, I went down the stairs
with her and her hair beat from time to time against my cheek and her
foot sought support against my knee. I trembled under the beautiful
burden I was carrying, and every moment it seemed as if I had to
break down beneath it.
The bath consisted of a wide, high rotunda, which received a soft
quiet light from a red glass cupola above. Two palms extended their
broad leaves like a roof over a couch of velvet cushions. From here
steps covered with Turkish rugs led to the white marble basin which
occupied the center.
"There is a green ribbon on my toilet-table upstairs," said Wanda,
as I let her down on the couch, "go get it, and also bring the whip."
I flew upstairs and back again, and kneeling put both in my
mistress's hands. She then had me twist her heavy electric hair into
a large knot which I fastened with the green ribbon. Then I prepared
the bath. I did this very awkwardly because my hands and feet refused
to obey me. Again and again I had to look at the beautiful woman
lying on the red velvet cushions, and from time to time her wonderful
body gleamed here and there beneath the furs. Some magnetic power
stronger than my will compelled me to look. I felt that all
sensuality and lustfulness lies in that which is half-concealed or
intentionally disclosed; and the truth of this I recognized even more
acutely, when the basin at last was full, and Wanda threw off the fur-
cloak with a single gesture, and stood before me like the goddess in
At that moment she seemed as sacred and chaste to me in her unveiled
beauty, as did the divinity of long ago. I sank down on my knees
before her, and devoutly pressed my lips on her foot.
My soul which had been storm-tossed only a little while earlier,
suddenly was perfectly calm, and I now felt no element of cruelty in
She slowly descended the stairs, and I could watch her with a
calmness in which not a single atom of torment or desire was
intermingled. I could see her plunge into and rise out of the
crystalline water, and the wavelets which she herself raised played
about her like tender lovers.
Our nihilistic aesthetician is right when he says: a real apple is
more beautiful than a painted one, and a living woman is more
beautiful than a Venus of stone.
And when she left the bath, and the silvery drops and the roseate
light rippled down her body, I was seized with silent rapture. I
wrapped the linen sheets about her, drying her glorious body. The
calm bliss remained with me, even now when one foot upon me as upon
a footstool, she rested on the cushions in her large velvet cloak.
The lithe sables nestled desirously against her cold marble-like body.
Her left arm on which she supported herself lay like a sleeping swan
in the dark fur of the sleeve, while her left hand played carelessly
with the whip.
By chance my look fell on the massive mirror on the wall opposite,
and I cried out, for I saw the two of us in its golden frame as in
a picture. The picture was so marvellously beautiful, so strange, so
imaginative, that I was filled with deep sorrow at the thought that
its lines and colors would have to dissolve like mist.
"What is the matter?" asked Wanda.
I pointed to the mirror.
"Ah, that is really beautiful," she exclaimed, "too bad one can't
capture the moment and make it permanent."
"And why not?" I asked. "Would not any artist, even the most famous,
be proud if you gave him leave to paint you and make you immortal by
means of his brush.
"The very thought that this extra-ordinary beauty is to be lost to
the world," I continued still watching her enthusiastically, "is
horrible--all this glorious facial expression, this mysterious eye
with its green fires, this demonic hair, this magnificence of body.
The idea fills me with a horror of death, of annihilation. But the
hand of an artist shall snatch you from this. You shall not like the
rest of us disappear absolutely and forever, without leaving a trace
of your having been. Your picture must live, even when you yourself
have long fallen to dust; your beauty must triumph beyond death!"
"Too bad, that present-day Italy hasn't a Titian or Raphael," she
said, "but, perhaps, love will make amends for genius, who knows; our
little German might do?" She pondered.
"Yes, he shall paint you, and I will see to it that the god of love
mixes his colors."
* * * * *
The young painter has established his studio in her villa; he is
completely in her net. He has just begun a Madonna, a Madonna with
red hair and green eyes! Only the idealism of a German would attempt
to use this thorough-bred woman as a model for a picture of
virginity. The poor fellow really is an almost bigger donkey than I
am. Our misfortune is that our Titania has discovered our ass's ears
* * * * *
Now she laughs derisively at us, and how she laughs! I hear her
insolent melodious laughter in his studio, under the open window of
which I stand, jealously listening.
* * * * *
"Are you mad, me--ah, it is unbelievable, me as the Mother of God!"
she exclaimed and laughed again. "Wait a moment, I will show you
another picture of myself, one that I myself have painted, and you
shall copy it."
Her head appeared in the window, luminous like a flame under the
I hurried up the stairs, through the gallery, into the studio.
"Lead him to the bath," Wanda commanded, while she herself hurried
A few moments passed and Wanda arrived; dressed in nothing but the
sable fur, with the whip in her hand; she descended the stairs and
stretched out on the velvet cushions as on the former occasion. I lay
at her feet and she placed one of her feet upon me; her right hand
played with the whip. "Look at me," she said, "with your deep,
fanatical look, that's it."
The painter had turned terribly pale. He devoured the scene with his
beautiful dreamy blue eyes; his lips opened, but he remained dumb.
"Well, how do you like the picture?"
"Yes, that is how I want to paint you," said the German, but it was
really not a spoken language; it was the eloquent moaning, the
weeping of a sick soul, a soul sick unto death.
* * * * *
The charcoal outline of the painting is done; the heads and flesh
parts are painted in. Her diabolical face is already becoming visible
under a few bold strokes, life flashes in her green eyes.
Wanda stands in front of the canvas with her arms crossed over her
"This picture, like many of those of the Venetian school, is
simultaneously to represent a portrait and to tell a story,"
explained the painter, who again had become pale as death.
"And what will you call it?" she asked, "but what is the matter with
you, are you ill?"
"I am afraid--" he answered with a consuming look fixed on the
beautiful woman in furs, "but let us talk of the picture."
"Yes, let us talk about the picture."
"I imagine the goddess of love as having descended from Mount Olympus
for the sake of some mortal man. And always cold in this modern world
of ours, she seeks to keep her sublime body warm in a large heavy fur
and her feet in the lap of her lover. I imagine the favorite of a
beautiful despot, who whips her slave, when she is tired of kissing
him, and the more she treads him underfoot, the more insanely he loves
her. And so I shall call the picture: _Venus in Furs_."
* * * * *
The painter paints slowly, but his passion grows more and more
rapidly. I am afraid he will end up by committing suicide. She plays
with him and propounds riddles to him which he cannot solve, and he
feels his blood congealing in the process, but it amuses her.
During the sitting she nibbles at candies, and rolls the paper-
wrappers into little pellets with which she bombards him.
"I am glad you are in such good humor," said the painter, "but your
face has lost the expression which I need for my picture."
"The expression which you need for your picture," she replied,
smiling. "Wait a moment."
She rose, and dealt me a blow with the whip. The painter looked at
her with stupefaction, and a child-like surprise showed on his face,
mingled with disgust and admiration.
While whipping me, Wanda's face acquired more and more of the cruel,
contemptuous character, which so haunts and intoxicates me.
"Is this the expression you need for your picture?" she exclaimed.
The painter lowered his look in confusion before the cold ray of her
"It is the expression--" he stammered, "but I can't paint now--"
"What?" said Wanda, scornfully, "perhaps I can help you?"
"Yes--" cried the German, as if taken with madness, "whip me too."
"Oh! With pleasure," she replied, shrugging her shoulders, "but if
I am to whip you I want to do it in sober earnest."
"Whip me to death," cried the painter.
"Will you let me tie you?" she asked, smiling.
"Yes--" he moaned--
Wanda left the room for a moment, and returned with ropes.
"Well--are you still brave enough to put yourself into the power of
Venus in Furs, the beautiful despot, for better or worse?" she began
"Yes, tie me," the painter replied dully. Wanda tied his hands on
his back and drew a rope through his arms and a second one around his
body, and fettered him to the cross-bars of the window. Then she
rolled back the fur, seized the whip, and stepped in front of him.
The scene had a grim attraction for me, which I cannot describe. I
felt my heart beat, when, with a smile, she drew back her arm for the
first blow, and the whip hissed through the air. He winced slightly
under the blow. Then she let blow after blow rain upon him, with her
mouth half-opened and her teeth flashing between her red lips, until
he finally seemed to ask for mercy with his piteous, blue eyes. It
* * * * *
She is sitting for him now, alone. He is working on her head.
She has posted me in the adjoining room behind a heavy curtain,
where I can't be seen, but can see everything.
What does she intend now?
Is she afraid of him? She has driven him insane enough to be sure,
or is she hatching a new torment for me? My knees tremble.
They are talking. He has lowered his voice so that I cannot
understand a word, and she replies in the same way. What is the
meaning of this? Is there an understanding between them?
I suffer frightful torments; my heart seems about to burst.
He kneels down before her, embraces her, and presses his head
against her breast, and she--in her heartlessness--laughs--and now
I hear her saying aloud:
"Ah! You need another application of the whip."
"Woman! Goddess! Are you without a heart--can't you love," exclaimed
the German, "don't you even know, what it means to love, to be
consumed with desire and passion, can't you even imagine what I
suffer? Have you no pity for me?"
"No!" she replied proudly and mockingly, "but I have the whip."
She drew it quickly from the pocket of her fur-coat, and struck him
in the face with the handle. He rose, and drew back a couple of paces.
"Now, are you ready to paint again?" she asked indifferently. He did
not reply, but again went to the easel and took up his brush and
The painting is marvellously successful. It is a portrait which as
far as the likeness goes couldn't be better, and at the same time it
seems to have an ideal quality. The colors glow, are supernatural;
almost diabolical, I would call them.
The painter has put all his sufferings, his adoration, and all his
execration into the picture.
* * * * *
Now he is painting me; we are alone together for several hours every
day. To-day he suddenly turned to me with his vibrant voice and said:
"You love this woman?"
"I also love her." His eyes were bathed in tears. He remained silent
for a while, and continued painting.
"We have a mountain at home in Germany within which she dwells," he
murmured to himself. "She is a demon."
* * * * *
The picture is finished. She insisted on paying him for it,
munificently, in the manner of queens.
"Oh, you have already paid me," he said, with a tormented smile,
refusing her offer.
Before he left, he secretly opened his portfolio, and let me look
inside. I was startled. Her head looked at me as if out of a mirror
and seemed actually to be alive.
"I shall take it along," he said, "it is mine; she can't take it
away from me. I have earned it with my heart's blood."
* * * * *
"I am really rather sorry for the poor painter," she said to me to-
day, "it is absurd to be as virtuous as I am. Don't you think so too?"
I did not dare to reply to her.
"Oh, I forgot that I am talking with a slave; I need some fresh air,
I want to be diverted, I want to forget.
"The carriage, quick!"
Her new dress is extravagant: Russian half-boots of violet-blue
velvet trimmed with ermine, and a skirt of the same material,
decorated with narrow stripes and rosettes of furs. Above it is an
appropriate, close-fitting jacket, also richly trimmed and lined with
ermine. The headdress is a tall cap of ermine of the style of
Catherine the Second, with a small aigrette, held in place by a
diamond-agraffe; her red hair falls loose down her back. She ascends
on the driver's seat, and holds the reins herself; I take my seat
behind. How she lashes on the horses! The carriage flies along like
Apparently it is her intention to attract attention to-day, to make
conquests, and she succeeds completely. She is the lioness of the
Cascine. People nod to her from carriages; on the footpath people
gather in groups to discuss her. She pays no attention to anyone,
except now and then acknowledging the greetings of elderly gentlemen
with a slight nod.
Suddenly a young man on a lithe black horse dashes up at full speed.
As soon as he sees Wanda, he stops his horse and makes it walk. When
he is quite close, he stops entirely and lets her pass. And she too
sees him--the lioness, the lion. Their eyes meet. She madly drives
past him, but she cannot tear herself free from the magic power of
his look, and she turns her head after him.
My heart stops when I see the half-surprised, half-enraptured look
with which she devours him, but he is worthy of it.
For he is, indeed, a magnificent specimen of man, No, rather, he is
a man whose like I have never yet seen among the living. He is in the
Belvedere, graven in marble, with the same slender, yet steely
musculature, with the same face and the same waving curls. What makes
him particularly beautiful is that he is beardless. If his hips were
less narrow, one might take him for a woman in disguise. The curious
expression about the mouth, the lion's lip which slightly discloses
the teeth beneath, lends a flashing tinge of cruelty to the beautiful
Apollo flaying Marsyas.
He wears high black boots, closely fitting breeches of white
leather, short fur coat of black cloth, of the kind worn by Italian
cavalry officers, trimmed with astrakhan and many rich loops; on his
black locks is a red fez.
I now understand the masculine Eros, and I marvel at Socrates for
having remained virtuous in view of an Alcibiades like this.
* * * * *
I have never seen my lioness so excited. Her cheeks flamed when she
left from the carriage at her villa. She hurried upstairs, and with
an imperious gesture ordered me to follow.
Walking up and down her room with long strides, she began to talk so
rapidly, that I was frightened.
"You are to find out who the man in the Cascine was, immediately--
"Oh, what a man! Did you see him? What do you think of him? Tell me."
"The man is beautiful," I replied dully.
"He is so beautiful," she paused, supporting herself on the arm of
a chair, "that he has taken my breath away."
"I can understand the impression he has made on you," I replied, my
imagination carrying me away in a mad whirl. "I am quite lost in
admiration myself, and I can imagine--"
"You may imagine," she laughed aloud, "that this man is my lover,
and that he will apply the lash to you, and that you will enjoy being
punished by him.
"But now go, go."
* * * * *
Before evening fell, I had the desired information.
Wanda was still fully dressed when I returned. She reclined on the
ottoman, her face buried in her hands, her hair in a wild tangle,
like the red mane of a lioness.
"What is his name?" she asked, uncanny calm.
"A Greek, then,"
"He is very young?"
"Scarcely older than you. They say he was educated in Paris, and
that he is an atheist. He fought against the Turks in Candia, and is
said to have distinguished himself there no less by his race-hatred
and cruelty, than by his bravery."
"All in all, then, a man," she cried with sparkling eyes.
"At present he is living in Florence," I continued, "he is said to
be tremendously rich--"
"I didn't ask you about that," she interrupted quickly and sharply.
"The man is dangerous. Aren't you afraid of him? I am afraid of him.
Has he a wife?"
"What theaters does he attend?"
"To-night he will be at the Nicolini Theater, where Virginia Marini
and Salvini are acting; they are the greatest living artists in
Italy, perhaps in Europe.
"See that you get a box--and be quick about it!" she commanded.
"Do you want a taste of the whip?"
* * * * *
"You can wait down in the lobby," she said when I had placed the
opera-glasses and the programme on the edge of her box and adjusted
I am standing there and had to lean against the wall for support so
as not to fall down with envy and rage--no, rage isn't the right
word; it was a mortal fear.
I saw her in her box dressed in blue moire, with a huge ermine cloak
about her bare shoulders; he sat opposite. I saw them devour each
other with their eyes. For both of them the stage, Goldoni's _Pamela,_
Salvini, Marini, the public, even the entire world, were non-existant
to-night. And I--what was I at that moment?--
* * * * *
To-day she is attending the ball at the Greek ambassador's. Does she
know, that she will meet him there?
At any rate she dressed, as if she did. A heavy sea-green silk dress
plastically encloses her divine form, leaving the bust and arms bare.
In her hair, which is done into a single flaming knot, a white water-
lily blossoms; from it the leaves of reeds interwoven with a few
loose strands fall down toward her neck. There no longer is any trace
of agitation or trembling feverishness in her being. She is calm, so
calm, that I feel my blood congealing and my heart growing cold under
her glance. Slowly, with a weary, indolent majesty, she ascends the
marble staircase, lets her precious wrap slide off, and listlessly
enters the hall, where the smoke of a hundred candles has formed a
For a few moments my eyes follow her in a daze, then I pick up her
furs, which without my being aware, had slipped from my hands. They
are still warm from her shoulders.
I kiss the spot, and my eyes fill with tears.
* * * * *
He has arrived.
In his black velvet coat extravagantly trimmed with sable, he is a
beautiful, haughty despot who plays with the lives and souls of men.
He stands in the ante-room, looking around proudly, and his eyes rest
on me for an uncomfortably long time.
Under his icy glance I am again seized by a mortal fear. I have a
presentiment that this man can enchain her, captivate her, subjugate
her, and I feel inferior in contrast with his savage masculinity; I
am filled with envy, with jealousy.
I feel that I am a queer weakly creature of brains, merely! And what
is most humiliating, I want to hate him, but I can't. Why is that
among all the host of servants he has chosen me.
With an inimitably aristocratic nod of the head he calls me over to
him, and I--I obey his call--against my own will.
"Take my furs," he quickly commands.
My entire body trembles with resentment, but I obey, abjectly like
* * * * *
All night long I waited in the ante-room, raving as in a fever.
Strange images hovered past my inner eye. I saw their meeting--their
long exchange of looks. I saw her float through the hall in his arms,
drunken, lying with half-closed lids against his breast. I saw him
in the holy of holies of love, lying on the ottoman, not as slave,
but as master, and she at his feet. On my knees I served them, the
tea-tray faltering in my hands, and I saw him reach for the whip.
But now the servants are talking about him.
He is a man who is like a woman; he knows that he is beautiful, and
he acts accordingly. He changes his clothes four or five times a day,
like a vain courtesan.
In Paris he appeared first in woman's dress, and the men assailed
him with love-letters. An Italian singer, famous equally for his art
and his passionate intensity, even invaded his home, and lying on his
knees before him threatened to commit suicide if he wouldn't be his.
"I am sorry," he replied, smiling, "I should like to do you the
favor, but you will have to carry out your threat, for I am a man."
* * * * *
The drawing-room has already thinned out to a marked degree, but she
apparently has no thought of leaving.
Morning is already peering through the blinds.
At last I hear the rustling of her heavy gown which flows along
behind her like green waves. She advances step by step, engaged in
conversation with him.
I hardly exist for her any longer; she doesn't even trouble to give
me an order.
"The cloak for madame," he commands. He, of course, doesn't think of
looking after her himself.
While I put her furs about her, he stands to one side with his arms
crossed. While I am on my knees putting on her fur over-shoes, she
lightly supports herself with her hand on his shoulder. She asks:
"And what about the lioness?"
"When the lion whom she has chosen and with whom she lives is
attacked by another," the Greek went on with his narrative, "the
lioness quietly lies down and watches the battle. Even if her mate
is worsted she does not go to his aid. She looks on indifferently as
he bleeds to death under his opponent's claws, and follows the victor,
the stronger--that is the female's nature."
At this moment my lioness looked quickly and curiously at me.
It made me shudder, though I didn't know why--and the red dawn
immerses me and her and him in blood.
* * * * *
She did not go to bed, but merely threw off her ball-dress and undid
her hair; then she ordered me to build a fire, and she sat by the
fire-place, and stared into the flames.
"Do you need me any longer, mistress?" I asked, my voice failed me
at the last word.
Wanda shook her head.
I left the room, passed through the gallery, and sat down on one of
the steps, leading from there down into the garden. A gentle north
wind brought a fresh, damp coolness from the Arno, the green hills
extended into the distance in a rosy mist, a golden haze hovered over
the city, over the round cupola of the Duomo.
A few stars still tremble in the pale-blue sky.
I tore open my coat, and pressed my burning forehead against the
marble. Everything that had happened so far seemed to me a mere
child's play; but now things were beginning to be serious, terribly
I anticipated a catastrophe, I visualized it, I could lay hold of it
with my hands, but I lacked the courage to meet it. My strength was
broken. And if I am honest with myself, neither the pains and
sufferings that threatened me, not the humiliations that impended,
were the thing that frightened me.
I merely felt a fear, the fear of losing her whom I loved with a
sort of fanatical devotion; but it was so overwhelming, so crushing
that I suddenly began to sob like a child.
* * * * *
During the day she remained locked in her room, and had the negress
attend her. When the evening star rose glowing in the blue sky, I saw
her pass through the garden, and, carefully following her at a
distance, watched her enter the shrine of Venus. I stealthily
followed and peered through the chink in the door.
She stood before the divine image of the goddess, her hands folded
as in prayer, and the sacred light of the star of love casts its blue
rays over her.
* * * * *
On my couch at night the fear of losing her and despair took such
powerful hold of me that they made a hero and a libertine of me. I
lighted the little red oil-lamp which hung in the corridor beneath
a saint's image, and entered her bedroom, covering the light with one
The lioness had been hunted and driven until she was exhausted. She
had fallen asleep among her pillows, lying on her back, her hands
clenched, breathing heavily. A dream seemed to oppress her. I slowly
withdrew my hand, and let the red light fall full on her wonderful
But she did not awaken.
I gently set the lamp on the floor, sank down beside Wanda's bed,
and rested my head on her soft, glowing arm.
She moved slightly, but even now did not awaken. I do not know how
long I lay thus in the middle of the night, turned as into a stone
by horrible torments.
Finally a severe trembling seized me, and I was able to cry. My
tears flowed over her arm. She quivered several times and finally sat
up; she brushed her hand across her eyes, and looked at me.
"Severin," she exclaimed, more frightened than angry.
I was unable to reply.
"Severin," she continued softly, "what is the matter? Are you ill?"
Her voice sounded so sympathetic, so kind, so full of love, that it
clutched my breast like red-hot tongs and I began to sob aloud.
"Severin," she began anew. "My poor unhappy friend." Her hand gently
stroked my hair. "I am sorry, very sorry for you; but I can't help
you; with the best intention in the world I know of nothing that
would cure you."
"Oh, Wanda, must it be?" I moaned in my agony.
"What, Severin? What are you talking about?"
"Don't you love me any more?" I continued. "Haven't you even a
little bit of pity for me? Has the beautiful stranger taken complete
possession of you?"
"I cannot lie," she replied softly after a short pause. "He has made
an impression on me which I haven't yet been able to analyse, further
than that I suffer and tremble beneath it. It is an impression of the
sort I have met with in the works of poets or on the stage, but I
always thought it was a figment of the imagination. Oh, he is a man
like a lion, strong and beautiful and yet gentle, not brutal like the
men of our northern world. I am sorry for you, Severin, I am; but I
must possess him. What am I saying? I must give myself to him, if he
will have me."
"Consider your reputation, Wanda, which so far has remained
spotless," I exclaimed, "even if I no longer mean anything to you."
"I am considering it," she replied, "I intend to be strong, as long
as it is possible, I want--" she buried her head shyly in the pillows
--"I want to become his wife--if he will have me."
"Wanda," I cried, seized again by that mortal fear, which always
robs me of my breath, makes me lose possession of myself, "you want
to be his wife, belong to him for always. Oh! Do not drive me away!
He does not love you--"
"Who says that?" she exclaimed, flaring up.
"He does not love you," I went on passionately, "but I love you, I
adore you, I am your slave, I let you tread me underfoot, I want to
carry you on my arms through life."
"Who says that he doesn't love me?" she interrupted vehemently.
"Oh! be mine," I replied, "be mine! I cannot exist, cannot live
without you. Have mercy on me, Wanda, have mercy!"
She looked at me again, and her face had her cold heartless
expression, her evil smile.
"You say he doesn't love me," she said, scornfully. "Very well then,
get what consolation you can out of it."
With this she turned over on the other side, and contemptuously
showed me her back.
"Good God, are you a woman without flesh or blood, haven't you a
heart as well as I!" I cried, while my breast heaved convulsively.
"You know what I am," she replied, coldly. "I am a woman of stone,
_Venus in Furs_, your ideal, kneel down, and pray to me."
"Wanda!" I implored, "mercy!"
She began to laugh. I buried my face in her pillows. Pain had
loosened the floodgates of my tears and I let them flow.
For a long time silence reigned, then Wanda slowly raised herself.
"You bore me," she began.
"I am tired, let me go to sleep."
"Mercy," I implored. "Do not drive me away. No man, no one, will
love you as I do."
"Let me go to sleep,"--she turned her back to me again.
I leaped up, and snatched the poinard, which hung beside her bed,
from its sheath, and placed its point against my breast.
"I shall kill myself here before your eyes," I murmured dully.
"Do what you please," Wanda replied with complete indifference. "But
let me go to sleep." She yawned aloud. "I am very sleepy."
For a moment I stood as if petrified. Then I began to laugh and cry
at the same time. Finally I placed the poinard in my belt, and again
fell on my knees before her.
"Wanda, listen to me, only for a few moments," I begged.
"I want to go to sleep! Don't you hear!" she cried, leaping angrily
out of bed and pushing me away with her foot. "You forget that I am
your mistress?" When I didn't budge, she seized the whip and struck
me. I rose; she struck me again--this time right in the face.
With clenched fist held heavenward, I left her bedroom with a sudden
resolve. She tossed the whip aside, and broke out into clear
laughter. I can imagine that my theatrical attitude must have been
* * * * *
I have determined to set myself free from this heartless woman, who
has treated me so cruelly, and is now about to break faith and betray
me, as a reward for all my slavish devotion, for everything I have
suffered from her. I packed my few belongings into a bundle, and then
wrote her as follows:
I have loved you even to madness, I have given myself to you as no man
ever has given himself to a woman. You have abused my most sacred
emotions, and played an impudent, frivolous game with me. However, as
long as you were merely cruel and merciless, it was still possible for
me to love you. Now you are about to become _cheap_. I am no longer
the slave whom you can kick about and whip. You yourself have set me
free, and I am leaving a woman I can only hate and despise.
I handed these lines to the negress, and hastened away as fast as I
could go. I arrived at the railway-station all out of breath.
Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my heart and stopped. I began to
weep. It is humiliating that I want to flee and I can't. I turn back--
whither?--to her, whom I abhor, and yet, at the same time, adore.
Again I pause. I cannot go back. I dare not.
But how am I to leave Florence. I remember that I haven't any money,
not a penny. Very well then, on foot; it is better to be an honest
beggar than to eat the bread of a courtesan.
But still I can't leave.
She has my pledge, my word of honor. I have to return. Perhaps she
will release me.
After a few rapid strides, I stop again.
She has my word of honor and my bond, that I shall remain her slave
as long as she desires, until she herself gives me my freedom. But
I might kill myself.
I go through the Cascine down to the Arno, where its yellow waters
plash monotonously about a couple of stray willows. There I sit, and
cast up my final accounts with existence. I let my entire life pass
before me in review. On the whole, it is rather a wretched affair--a
few joys, an endless number of indifferent and worthless things, and
between these an abundant harvest of pains, miseries, fears,
disappointments, shipwrecked hopes, afflictions, sorrow and grief.
I thought of my mother, whom I loved so deeply and whom I had to
watch waste away beneath a horrible disease; of my brother, who full
of the promise of joy and happiness died in the flower of youth,
without even having put his lips to the cup of life. I thought of my
dead nurse, my childhood playmates, the friends that had striven and
studied with me; of all those, covered by the cold, dead, indifferent
earth. I thought of my turtle-dove, who not infrequently made his
cooing bows to me, instead of to his mate.--All have returned, dust
I laughed aloud, and slid down into the water, but at the same
moment I caught hold of one of the willow-branches, hanging above the
yellow waves. As in a vision, I see the woman who has caused all my
misery. She hovers above the level of the water, luminous in the
sunlight as though she were transparent, with red flames about her
head and neck. She turns her face toward me and smiles.
* * * * *
I am back again, dripping, wet through, glowing with shame and
fever. The negress has delivered my letter; I am judged, lost, in the
power of a heartless, affronted woman.
Well, let her kill me. I am unable to do it myself, and yet I have
no wish to go on living.
As I walk around the house, she is standing in the gallery, leaning
over the railing. Her face is full in the light of the sun, and her
green eyes sparkle.
"Still alive?" she asked, without moving. I stood silent, with bowed
"Give me back my poinard," she continued. "It is of no use to you.
You haven't even the courage to take your own life."
"I have lost it," I replied, trembling, shaken by chills.
She looked me over with a proud, scornful glance.
"I suppose you lost it in the Arno?" She shrugged her shoulders. "No
matter. Well, and why didn't you leave?"
I mumbled something which neither she nor I myself could understand.
"Oh! you haven't any money," she cried. "Here!" With an
indescribably disdainful gesture she tossed me her purse.
I did not pick it up.
Both of us were silent for some time.
"You don't want to leave then?"
* * * * *
Wanda drives in the Cascine without me, and goes to the theater
without me; she receives company, and the negress serves her. No one
asks after me. I stray about the garden, irresolutely, like an animal
that has lost its master.
Lying among the bushes, I watch a couple of sparrows, fighting over
Suddenly I hear the swish of a woman's dress.
Wanda approaches in a gown of dark silk, modestly closed up to the
neck; the Greek is with her. They are in an eager discussion, but I
cannot as yet understand a word of what they are saying. He stamps
his foot so that the gravel scatters about in all directions, and he
lashes the air with his riding whip. Wanda startles.
Is she afraid that he will strike her?
Have they gone that far?
He has left her, she calls him; he does not hear her, does not want
to hear her.
Wanda sadly lowers her head, and then sits down on the nearest stone-
bench. She sits for a long time, lost in thought. I watch her with
a sort of malevolent pleasure, finally I pull myself together by sheer
force of will, and ironically step before her. She startles, and
trembles all over.
"I come to wish you happiness," I said, bowing, "I see, my dear
lady, too, has found a master."
"Yes, thank God!" she exclaimed, "not a new slave, I have had enough
of them. A master! Woman needs a master, and she adores him."
"You adore him, Wanda?" I cried, "this brutal person--"
"Yes, I love him, as I have never loved any one else."
"Wanda!" I clenched my fists, but tears already filled my eyes, and
I was seized by the delirium of passion, as by a sweet madness. "Very
well, take him as your husband, let him be your master, but I want
to remain your slave, as long as I live."
"You want to remain my slave, even then?" she said, "that would be
interesting, but I am afraid he wouldn't permit it."
"Yes, he is already jealous of you," she exclaimed, "he, of you! He
demanded that I dismiss you immediately, and when I told him who you
"You told him--" I repeated, thunderstruck.
"I told him everything," she replied, "our whole story, all your
queerness, everything--and he, instead of being amused, grew angry,
and stamped his foot."
"And threatened to strike you?"
Wanda looked to the ground, and remained silent.
"Yes, indeed," I said with mocking bitterness, "you are afraid of
him, Wanda!" I threw myself down at her feet, and in my agitation
embraced her knees. "I don't want anything of you, except to be your
slave, to be always near you! I will be your dog-"
"Do you know, you bore me?" said Wanda, indifferently.
I leaped up. Everything within me was seething.
"You are now no longer cruel, but cheap," I said, clearly and
distinctly, accentuating every word.
"You have already written that in your letter," Wanda replied, with
a proud shrug of the shoulders. "A man of brains should never repeat
"The way you are treating me," I broke out, "what would you call it?"
"I might punish you," she replied ironically, "but I prefer this
time to reply with reasons instead of lashes. You have no right to
accuse me. Haven't I always been honest with you? Haven't I warned
you more than once? Didn't I love you with all my heart, even
passionately, and did I conceal the fact from you, that it was
dangerous to give yourself into my power, to abase yourself before
me, and that I want to be dominated? But you wished to be my
plaything, my slave! You found the highest pleasure in feeling the
foot, the whip of an arrogant, cruel woman. What do you want now?
"Dangerous potentialities were slumbering in me, but you were the
first to awaken them. If I now take pleasure in torturing you,
abusing you, it is your fault; you have made of me what I now am, and
now you are even unmanly, weak, and miserable enough to accuse me."
"Yes, I am guilty," I said, "but haven't I suffered because of it?
Let us put an end now to the cruel game."
"That is my wish, too," she replied with a curious deceitful look.
"Wanda!" I exclaimed violently, "don't drive me to extremes; you see
that I am a man again."
"A fire of straw," she replied, "which makes a lot of stir for a
moment, and goes out as quickly as it flared up. You imagine you can
intimidate me, and you only make yourself ridiculous. Had you been
the man I first thought you were, serious, reserved, stern, I would
have loved you faithfully, and become your wife. Woman demands that
she can look up to a man, but one like you who voluntarily places his
neck under her foot, she uses as a welcome plaything, only to toss
it aside when she is tired of it."
"Try to toss me aside," I said, jeeringly. "Some toys are dangerous."
"Don't challenge me," exclaimed Wanda. Her eyes began to flash, and
a flush entered her cheeks.
"If you won't be mine now," I continued, with a voice stifled with
rage, "no one else shall possess you either."
"What play is this from?" she mocked, seizing me by the breast. She
was pale with anger at this moment. "Don't challenge me," she
continued, "I am not cruel, but I don't know whether I may not become
so and whether then there will be any bounds."
"What worse can you do, than to make your lover, your husband?" I
exclaimed, more and more enraged.
"I might make you _his_ slave," she replied quickly, "are you not in
my power? Haven't I the agreement? But, of course, you will merely
take pleasure in it, if I have you bound, and say to him.
"Do with him what you please."
"Woman, are you mad!" I cried.
"I am entirely rational," she said, calmly. "I warn you for the last
time. Don't offer any resistance, one who has gone as far as I have
gone might easily go still further. I feel a sort of hatred for you,
and would find a real joy in seeing him beat you to death; I am still
restraining myself, but--"
Scarcely master of myself any longer, I seized her by the wrist and
forced her to the ground, so that she lay on her knees before me.
"Severin!" she cried. Rage and terror were painted on her face.
"I shall kill you if you marry him," I threatened; the words came
hoarsely and dully from my breast. "You are mine, I won't let you go,
I love you too much." Then I clutched her and pressed her close to
me; my right hand involuntarily seized the dagger which I still had
in my belt.
Wanda fixed a large, calm, incomprehensible look on me.
"I like you that way," she said, carelessly. "Now you are a man, and
at this moment I know I still love you."
"Wanda," I wept with rapture, and bent down over her, covering her
dear face with kisses, and she, suddenly breaking into a loud gay
laugh, said, "Have you finished with your ideal now, are you
satisfied with me?"
"You mean?" I stammered, "that you weren't serious?"
"I am very serious," she gaily continued. "I love you, only you, and
you--you foolish, little man, didn't know that everything was only
make-believe and play-acting. How hard it often was for me to strike
you with the whip, when I would have rather taken your head and
covered it with kisses. But now we are through with that, aren't we?
I have played my cruel role better than you expected, and now you
will be satisfied with my being a good, little wife who isn't
altogether unattractive. Isn't that so? We will live like rational
"You will marry me!" I cried, overflowing with happiness.
"Yes--marry you--you dear, darling man," whispered Wanda, kissing my
I drew her up to my breast.
"Now, you are no longer Gregor, my slave," said she, "but Severin,
the dear man I love--"
"And he--you don't love him?" I asked in agitation.
"How could you imagine my loving a man of his brutal type? You were
blind to everything, I was really afraid for you."
"I almost killed myself for your sake."
"Really?" she cried, "ah, I still tremble at the thought, that you
were already in the Arno."
"But you saved me," I replied, tenderly. "You hovered over the
waters and smiled, and your smile called me back to life."
* * * * *
I have a curious feeling when I now hold her in my arms and she lies
silently against my breast and lets me kiss her and smiles. I feel
like one who has suddenly awakened out of a feverish delirium, or
like a shipwrecked man who has for many days battled with waves that
momentarily threatened to devour him and finally has found a safe
* * * * *
"I hate this Florence, where you have been so unhappy," she
declared, as I was saying good-night to her. "I want to leave
immediately, tomorrow, you will be good enough to write a couple of
letters for me, and, while you are doing that, I will drive to the
city to pay my farewell visits. Is that satisfactory to you?"
"Of course, you dear, sweet, beautiful woman."
* * * * *
Early in the morning she knocked at my door to ask how I had slept.
Her tenderness is positively wonderful. I should never have believed
that she could be so tender.
* * * * *
She has now been gone for over four hours. I have long since
finished the letters, and am now sitting in the gallery, looking down
the street to see whether I cannot discover her carriage in the
distance. I am a little worried about her, and yet I know there is
no reason under heaven why I should doubt or fear. However, a feeling
of oppression weighs me down, and I cannot rid myself of it. It is
probably the sufferings of the past days, which still cast their
shadows into my soul.
* * * * *
She is back, radiant with happiness and contentment.
"Well, has everything gone as you wished?" I asked tenderly, kissing
"Yes, dear heart," she replied, "and we shall leave to-night. Help
me pack my trunks."
* * * * *
Toward evening she asked me to go to the post-office and mail her
letters myself. I took her carriage, and was back within an hour.
"Mistress has asked for you," said the negress, with a grin, as I
ascended the wide marble stairs.
"Has anyone been here?"
"No one," she replied, crouching down on the steps like a black cat.
I slowly passed through the drawing-room, and then stood before her
Why does my heart beat so? Am I not perfectly happy?
Opening the door softly, I draw back the portiere. Wanda is lying on
the ottoman, and does not seem to notice me. How beautiful she looks,
in her silver-gray dress, which fits closely, and while displaying
in tell-tale fashion her splendid figure, leaves her wonderful bust
and arms bare.
Her hair is interwoven with, and held up by a black velvet ribbon.
A mighty fire is burning in the fire-place, the hanging lamp casts
a reddish glow, and the whole room is as if drowned in blood.
"Wanda," I said at last.
"Oh Severin," she cried out joyously. "I have been impatiently
waiting for you." She leaped up, and folded me in her arms. She sat
down again on the rich cushions and tried to draw me down to her
side, but I softly slid down to her feet and placed my head in her
"Do you know I am very much in love with you to-day?" she whispered,
brushing a few stray hairs from my forehead and kissing my eyes.
"How beautiful your eyes are, I have always loved them as the best
of you, but to-day they fairly intoxicate me. I am all--" She
extended her magnificent limbs and tenderly looked at me from beneath
her red lashes.
"And you--you are cold--you hold me like a block of wood; wait, I'll
stir you with the fire of love," she said, and again clung fawningly
and caressingly to my lips.
"I no longer please you; I suppose I'll have to be cruel to you
again, evidently I have been too kind to you to-day. Do you know, you
little fool, what I shall do, I shall whip you for a while--"
"I want to."
"Come, let me bind you," she continued, and ran gaily through the
room. "I want to see you very much in love, do you understand? Here
are the ropes. I wonder if I can still do it?"
She began with fettering my feet and then she tied my hands behind
my back, pinioning my arms like those of a prisoner.
"So," she said, with gay eagerness. "Can you still move?"
She then tied a noose in a stout rope, threw it over my head, and
let it slip down as far as the hips. She drew it tight, and bound me
to a pillar.
A curious tremor seized me at that moment.
"I have a feeling as if I were about to be executed," I said with a
"Well, you shall have a thorough punishment to-day," exclaimed Wanda.
"But put on your fur-jacket, please," I said.
"I shall gladly give you that pleasure," she replied. She got her
_kazabaika_, and put it on. Then she stood in front of me with
her arms folded across her chest, and looked at me out of half-closed
"Do you remember the story of the ox of Dionysius?" she asked.
"I remember it only vaguely, what about it?"
"A courtier invented a new implement of torture for the Tyrant of
Syracuse. It was an iron ox in which those condemned to death were
to be shut, and then pushed into a mighty furnace.
"As soon as the iron ox began to get hot, and the condemned person
began to cry out in his torment, his wails sounded like the bellowing
of an ox.
"Dionysius nodded graciously to the inventor, and to put his
invention to an immediate test had him shut up in the iron ox.
"It is a very instructive story.
"It was you who innoculated me with selfishness, pride, and cruelty,
and _you shall be their first victim._ I now literally enjoy having a
human being that thinks and feels and desires like myself in my power;
I love to abuse a man who is stronger in intelligence and body than I,
especially a man who loves me.
"Do you still love me?"
"Even to madness," I exclaimed.
"So much the better," she replied, "and so much the more will you
enjoy what I am about to do with you now."
"What is the matter with you?" I asked. "I don't understand you,
there is a gleam of real cruelty in your eyes to-day, and you are
strangely beautiful--completely _Venus in Furs."_
Without replying Wanda placed her arms around my neck and kissed me.
I was again seized by my fanatical passion.
"Where is the whip?" I asked.
Wanda laughed, and withdrew a couple of steps.
"You really insist upon being punished?" she exclaimed, proudly
tossing back her head.
Suddenly Wanda's face was completely transformed. It was as if
disfigured by rage; for a moment she seemed even ugly to me.
"Very well, then _you_ whip him!" she called loudly.
At the same instant the beautiful Greek stuck his head of black
curls through the curtains of her four-poster bed. At first I was
speechless, petrified. There was a horribly comic element in the
situation. I would have laughed aloud, had not my position been at
the same time so terribly cruel and humiliating.
It went beyond anything I had imagined. A cold shudder ran down my
back, when my rival stepped from the bed in his riding boots, his
tight-fitting white breeches, and his short velvet jacket, and I saw
his athletic limbs.
"You are indeed cruel," he said, turning to Wanda.
"Only inordinately fond of pleasure," she replied with a wild sort
of humor. "Pleasure alone lends value to existence; whoever enjoys
does not easily part from life, whoever suffers or is needy meets
death like a friend.
"But whoever wants to enjoy must take life gaily in the sense of the
ancient world; he dare not hesitate to enjoy at the expense of
others; he must never feel pity; he must be ready to harness others
to his carriage or his plough as though they were animals. He must
know how to make slaves of men who feel and would enjoy as he does,
and use them for his service and pleasure without remorse. It is not
his affair whether they like it, or whether they go to rack and ruin.
He must always remember this, that if they had him in their power,
as he has them they would act in exactly the same way, and he would
have to pay for their pleasure with his sweat and blood and soul. That
was the world of the ancients: pleasure and cruelty, liberty and slavery
went hand in hand. People who want to live like the gods of Olympus
must of necessity have slaves whom they can toss into their fish-
ponds, and gladiators who will do battle, the while they banquet, and
they must not mind if by chance a bit of blood bespatters them."
Her words brought back my complete self-possession.
"Unloosen me!" I exclaimed angrily.
"Aren't you my slave, my property?" replied Wanda. "Do you want me
to show you the agreement?"
"Untie me!" I threatened, "otherwise--" I tugged at the ropes.
"Can he tear himself free?" she asked. "He has threatened to kill me."
"Be entirely at ease," said the Greek, testing my fetters.
"I shall call for help," I began again.
"No one will hear you," replied Wanda, "and no one will hinder me
from abusing your most sacred emotions or playing a frivolous game
with you." she continued, repeating with satanic mockery phrases from
my letter to her.
"Do you think I am at this moment merely cruel and merciless, or am
I also about to become cheap? What? Do you still love me, or do you
already hate and despise me? Here is the whip--" She handed it to the
Greek who quickly stepped closer.
"Don't you dare!" I exclaimed, trembling with indignation, "I won't
"Oh, because I don't wear furs," the Greek replied with an ironical
smile, and he took his short sable from the bed.
"You are adorable," exclaimed Wanda, kissing him, and helping him
into his furs.
"May I really whip him?" he asked.
"Do with him what you please," replied Wanda.
"Beast!" I exclaimed, utterly revolted.
The Greek fixed his cold tigerish look upon me and tried out the
whip. His muscles swelled when he drew back his arms, and made the
whip hiss through the air. I was bound like Marsyas while Apollo was
getting ready to flay me.
My look wandered about the room and remained fixed on the ceiling,
where Samson, lying at Delilah's feet, was about to have his eyes put
out by the Philistines. The picture at that moment seemed to me like
a symbol, an eternal parable of passion and lust, of the love of man
for woman. "Each one of us in the end is a Samson," I thought, "and
ultimately for better or worse is betrayed by the woman he loves,
whether he wears an ordinary coat or sables."
"Now watch me break him in," said the Greek. He showed his teeth,
and his face acquired the blood-thirsty expression, which startled
me the first time I saw him.
And he began to apply the lash--so mercilessly, with such frightful
force that I quivered under each blow, and began to tremble all over
with pain. Tears rolled down over my cheeks. In the meantime Wanda
lay on the ottoman in her fur-jacket, supporting herself on her arm;
she looked on with cruel curiosity, and was convulsed with laughter.
The sensation of being whipped by a successful rival before the eyes
of an adored woman cannot be described. I almost went mad with shame
What was most humiliating was that at first I felt a certain wild,
supersensual stimulation under Apollo's whip and the cruel laughter
of my Venus, no matter how horrible my position was. But Apollo
whipped on and on, blow after blow, until I forgot all about poetry,
and finally gritted my teeth in impotent rage, and cursed my wild
dreams, woman, and love.
All of a sudden I saw with horrible clarity whither blind passion
and lust have led man, ever since Holofernes and Agamemnon--into a
blind alley, into the net of woman's treachery, into misery, slavery,
It was as though I were awakening from a dream.
Blood was already flowing under the whip. I wound like a worm that
is trodden on, but he whipped on without mercy, and she continued to
laugh without mercy. In the meantime she locked her packed trunk and
slipped into her travelling furs, and was still laughing, when she
went downstairs on his arm and entered the carriage.
Then everything was silent for a moment.
I listened breathlessly.
The carriage door slammed, the horse began to pull--the rolling of
the carriage for a short time--then all was over.
* * * * *
For a moment I thought of taking vengeance, of killing him, but I
was bound by the abominable agreement. So nothing was left for me to
do except to keep my pledged word and grit my teeth.
* * * * *
My first impulse after this, the most cruel catastrophe of my life,
was to seek laborious tasks, dangers, and privations. I wanted to
become a soldier and go to Asia or Algiers, but my father was old and
ill and wanted me.
So I quietly returned home and for two years helped him bear his
burdens, and learned how to look after the estate which I had never
done before. To _labor_ and to _do my duty_ was comforting like a
drink of fresh water. Then my father died, and I inherited the estate,
but it meant no change.
I had put on my own Spanish boots and went on living just as
rationally as if the old man were standing behind me, looking over
my shoulder with his large wise eyes.
One day a box arrived, accompanied by a letter. I recognized Wanda's
Curiously moved, I opened it, and read.
Now that over three years have passed since that night in Florence,
I suppose, I may confess to you that I loved you deeply. You
yourself, however, stifled my love by your fantastic devotion and
your insane passion. From the moment that you became my slave, I knew
it would be impossible for you ever to become my husband. However,
I found it interesting to have you realize your ideal in my own person,
and, while I gloriously amused myself, perhaps, to cure you.
I found the strong man for whom I felt a need, and I was as happy
with him as, I suppose, it is possible for any one to be on this
funny ball of clay.
But my happiness, like all things mortal, was of short duration.
About a year ago he fell in a duel, and since then I have been living
in Paris, like an Aspasia--
And you?--Your life surely is not without its sunshine, if you have
gained control of your imagination, and those qualities in you have
materialized, which at first so attracted me to you--your clarity of
intellect, kindness of heart, and, above all else, your--_moral
I hope you have been cured under my whip; the cure was cruel, but
radical. In memory of that time and of a woman who loved you
passionately, I am sending you the portrait by the poor German.
_Venus in Furs_."
I had to smile, and as I fell to musing the beautiful woman suddenly
stood before me in her velvet jacket trimmed with ermine, with the
whip in her hand. And I continued to smile at the woman I had once
loved so insanely, at the fur-jacket that had once so entranced me,
at the whip, and ended by smiling at myself and saying: The cure was
cruel, but radical; but the main point is, I have been cured.
* * * * *
"And the moral of the story?" I said to Severin when I put the
manuscript down on the table.
"That I was a donkey," he exclaimed without turning around, for he
seemed to be embarrassed. "If only I had beaten her!"
"A curious remedy," I exclaimed, "which might answer with your
"Oh, they are used to it," he replied eagerly, "but imagine the
effect upon one of our delicate, nervous, hysterical ladies--"
"But the moral?"
"That woman, as nature has created her and as man is at present
educating her, is his enemy. She can only be his slave or his despot,
but _never his companion._ This she can become only when she has
the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work.
"At present we have only the choice of being hammer or anvil, and I
was the kind of donkey who let a woman make a slave of him, do you
"The moral of the tale is this: whoever allows himself to be
whipped, deserves to be whipped.
"The blows, as you see, have agreed with me; the roseate supersensual
mist has dissolved, and no one can ever make me believe again that
these 'sacred apes of Benares' [Footnote: One of Schopenhauer's
designations for women.] or Plato's rooster [Footnote: Diogenes
threw a plucked rooster into Plato's school and exclaimed: "Here
you have Plato's human being."] are the image of God."
End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Venus in Furs
by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Translated by Fernanda Savage
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